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July 9, 2013

It rained yesterday.

Apparently Toronto averages 75mm of rain for the entire month of July — yesterday, in two hours, 90mm fell (for our Yankee readers, that’s just short of 4”). We just missed setting a single-day record. We’ll have to try harder next time.

The downpour knocked out subway service to much of the city; it flooded streets and homes; and now, a day later, parts of the city and the surrounding area are still without power. Perhaps the most shocking incident was a GO Train that found itself flooded, trapping 1,400 passengers on board. It took several hours to evacuate everyone.

I work in a windowless office, but could clearly hear the rain pounding the roof. As soon as the clock struck five, I decided it best that I leave and get home as quickly as I could. Typically, my 20-minute commute can be snarled by rain, so there was no telling what the drive would be like during a storm as big as this was shaping to be.

I texted Meg: “Check the basement for leaks.”

We’re entering our fourth year in our house. It was a new build. New builds are great because they’re far easier to personalize and “make your own.” The flip side, naturally, is that they tend to come with all sorts of gremlins.

Case in point: One evening, a couple months after we moved in, a storm hit The Vaughan. It was late evening and already dark when the rain started. From the living room, you could see the rain coming down in sheets. I love rain. There’s something cozy about a big thunderstorm. Meg hates rain. She thinks it’s “icky.” From the couch, I heard an odd noise right about the time the storm’s intensity ratcheted to another level. It was hard to place, but it sounded like running water.

I darted from room to room. Not the garage. Not the laundry room. I ran upstairs and it wasn’t the roof. It wasn’t seeping in through any of the bedrooms. I was perplexed. As the rain pounded the house, this now-constant noise was eating at me. I hit each room again. Still nothing.

Just as I was readying to give up, it hit me, “GASP — the basement!” I ran over and was immediately overtaken by the sound of rushing water. “Ahhhhhh….. $#@&.”

I made my way downstairs and found a torrent of water pouring through a small window at the mid-point of the house. “Megan! Get a bucket!” I just stood there as a pool formed at my feet. It was like someone had turned on a large tap and the water was just gushing in.

Megan was quick to position a laundry bucket beneath the breach. I scampered upstairs and made my way outside, into the storm. I was drenched head to toe by time I reached the window in question. The window well in front of it was completely full of water. It actually looked more like an aquarium. The window well wasn’t designed to hold that much water and it was busting in through the window seams.

Truth be told, at that moment, I really didn’t feel all that cozy. In fact, I was likely closer to “icky” than “cozy.” It was also then, as I stood over the flooded well, that I realized I hadn’t put on shoes and was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. (NOTE: I’ve tended, in re-tellings of this story, to portray myself as having worn cargo shorts when, in reality, a good part of me actually thinks I was in nothing more than a t-shirt and underwear. Frankly, whatever I was wearing wasn’t germane at the time, but the thought of me outside, in a storm, in my underwear, isn’t the heroic figure I’d ideally like to paint for myself as I bravely weathered the elements to save my family. Let’s just say it’s not how I’d like to be remembered if they ever decide to make a commemorative stamp of the occasion.)

I ran to the garage and quickly found an empty plant pot. The rain was now, probably, at its worst. I grabbed the pot, slogged my way to the window, and started baling the water. It’s hard to say how long I was out there, but it had to have taken at least ten minutes. The problem was that the well re-filled with water as quickly as I was able to bale it out. I punctuated every pot-full of water I baled with all sorts of off-colour language directed squarely at my housing developer.

The storm started to ease and I was able to get a leg up on things and finally stop of flow of water into my basement. Tired and wet, I swam into the house. Megan greeted me with a towel and we spent the next hour trying as best we could to siphon the water from the basement.

In the end, it turned out that the weeping tile in that particular well was clogged. The developer was on site the next day and it took but a few minutes to fix the problem; far less than the amount of time I was outside, baling water, in the dark, in the rain, in my “shorts.”

I’ve never forgotten my conversation with the guy that fixed the weeping tile. When I told him my Herculean tale from the previous night, he asked in reply, “Wow. Did you get wet?”

….

As bad as yesterday’s storm was for everyone else, it was pretty tepid for me. Nonetheless, like that dark night baling water from the window well, I got fairly wet yesterday (though mainly from running to and from my car).

Unlike that last time, however, Karma gave me a mulligan as, yesterday, there were no leaks in the basement.

This time I was wearing pants.


July 7, 2013

It took all of Megan’s strength to hold the boy. Three children were ahead of them in line and Owen was raring to go — struggling, fighting, squirming, anything to break his Mummy’s grasp and bolt ahead of the other kids, each of whom were waiting patiently for their turn. As Owen screamed for Megan to release him, the next child set off from the starting line, leaving only two kids ahead of them. I made my way over and tried in vain to calm the situation, “You need to wait your turn, Owen. The other little boys are being good. You need to be patient.” My son threw himself backward, struggling like an animal caught in a net. He wanted to go. He shook in anticipation. The next child was off; only one left to go. This time I grabbed his arms and tried to help Mummy who, by now, had him in a bear hug. “Owen,” I barked, "You need to calm down!”

Finally, the last child started off. It was Owen’s turn. The entire room stopped and turned as Megan postitioned him at the starting line, a plastic circle set randomly on the floor. When given the signal, we loosed the boy and he sprung forward like an creature pouncing from its cage. All eyes were on Owen as he made off towards “The Cheese” — a six-foot tall, pyramid-shaped mat that bears a striking resemblance, oddly enough, to a slice of cheese. Owen galloped towards his target! The silence that had enveloped the room in anticipation of my son’s turn was broken by his maniacal cry, “Uhhhhhh!!!” He picked up speed with each step; his frenzied energy propelling him forward.

BAM!

He hit the mat, head-long, and knocked it asunder. A thud echoed through the room and Owen roared with excitement. Everyone clapped their nervous approval. In his short life, perhaps nothing offered Owen satisfaction like hurling himself against “the Cheese.” And, no sooner as the activity instructors finished hoisting the mat to a standing position, Owen was off again, this time pushing his way from Mummy’s entanglement and past the next child standing in line. He gored The Cheese, sending it crashing, once again, to the floor.

“Your son has a lot of enthusiasm.”

Such were a stranger’s words to Megan. In light of events, it was really quite kind of that lady to be so euphemistic.

Circle back a few hours: the parents of one of Owen's daycare friends threw a party at an indoor play-yard to celebrate their son's second birthday. The entire class was invited and, while we barely knew the boy and had only the most superficial interaction with his parents, it marked an opportunity to meet some of Owen’s chums and their parents.

For those unaccustomed to them, indoor play-yards are quite remarkable. Imagine a large, padded room with toddler-sized obstacles for the kids to climb and bounce off of. Toss Owen into the mix with a bunch of balls, space to run around in, shake it together with a motley group of toddlers and you find yourself with a volatile concoction primed to set my frenzied son into overdrive.

After exchanging initial pleasantries with the birthday boy’s parents (this primarily consisted of Megan and I introducing ourselves, and Megan pointing out which kid was celebrating his birthday — a good thing to know as it would have been embarrassing had I wished some random little girl “Happy Birthday!”), we set Owen off to play with his classmates. Releasing Owen in the play-yard, it turns out, is like unleashing a dog in a park. They’re both so excited they don’t know what to do with themselves. Owen would spend the first 15 minutes doing nothing more than running laps — he needed to work up a sweat before the real fun started.

Once sufficiently warmed up, he promptly stole a ball from a meek little girl who was, perhaps, half his size. He then dangled from the monkey bars, strode across the balance beam, and bounced endlessly through the room. Owen never stopped. He couldn't stop. As soon as one activity was completed, he was off to the next. If kids were there ahead of him, Owen would remorselessly push past them. If that proved impossible, he would bludgeon his way over them.

Nothing could slow him.

Every twenty minutes or so, the play yard’s instructors would oversee an organized activity that everyone could participate in at once. Early on, the entire group, for example, was asked to sit around a parachute and, together, fling balls into the air. Things started well, but eventually the game proved impossible. Owen sprung from Megan’s lap and stood atop the parachute, effectively ending the activity. Meg lassoed the boy to the perimeter, scolding him for misbehaving.

It had taken perhaps half an hour for everyone to learn my son’s name.

Once Owen had sufficiently imposed his will over most of the children in the play-yard, everyone was asked to make their way to the dining area for pizza and cake. Owen was initially quite good: he hunkered down and ate his pizza, refuelling for what would be the final blitz in the activity room. Once he was sufficiently hopped up on icing sugar, he jumped from his chair and began running laps around the dining tables. He was like a bull, chomping at the bit, waiting impatiently to be sent back into the ring.

The birthday boy’s grandmother asked me if Owen was always this “happy.” I tried not read anything untoward into her question, but seeing as he was the only kid that wasn’t sitting still, I couldn’t help but feel like “one of those parents.” I politely nodded, excused myself, and tried to calm my son, who was climbing the walls.

Once everyone had finished their snacks, the group was invited back to the play-yard for one last jaunt around the room. Our attention turned to an instructor, who was standing next to a crescent-shaped mat. “Ok everyone,” she said, “this is The Cheese.”

Owen stopped in his tracks and stared at mat. His eyes widened. His breathing slowed.

It was the matador.

Megan frantically grabbed the boy. He was primed to charge….


July 4, 2013

Prior to Owen, my experience with kids, particularly toddlers, was largely non-existent. I’ve never had a sibling to care for and I only babysat someone, at best, a couple times (twice I think… maybe once). Dr. Spock, I clearly was not. I was far more adept at installing a car seat than I was at changing diapers. It’s scary because as much as you think you know what to expect, you truth is you really haven’t a clue. I suspect this is true of all first-time parents. There’s always some measure of trepidation before your kid is born. Megan and I took a couple parenting classes at the hospital when she was still pregnant. A waste of time. They teach you the obvious, like to make sure the formula isn’t too hot or to put cream on a red bum. Frankly, the only thing these classes did well was terrifying the expectant mothers about the magnitudes of pain they had to look forward to during childbirth.

I tried to be circumspect about fatherhood: There are billions of people in this world and I tended to believe that I couldn’t possibly be dumber than all of them. And then, when you consider the number of kids these billions of people have reared into functioning adults, I figured I’d probably be ok and wouldn’t mess Owen up (too much). I’ve kept my cat alive for 14 years, how much harder could taking care of the boy be?

Once Owen was born, we didn’t have much time to fret over the specifics of what to do. You just have to react and figure things out. Megan and I fell back on common sense a lot. You often have little choice but to use common sense and make a lot of assumptions that will, hopefully, prevent you from killing your child. It got us through his first year. Common sense, for example, told us that Owen would need to be fed every day. So we fed him, every day, and now he’s doing great!

Parenting was shaping up to be a breeze.

Things got harder when Owen blossomed into a thug/toddler. Suddenly, common sense and Owen didn’t go hand-in-hand. Whereas common sense might have dictated that, because he ate chicken fingers the week before he’d eat them again this week, the reality was, he wouldn’t. The harsh reality was, in fact, that he was more likely to fling them at both you and the cat, and then laugh hysterically as you picked them off the ground and out of Peanut’s fur.

Television, mainly The Cosby Show, taught me that kids this age are learning to push boundaries and assert their independence — hence the hucked chicken bits. Frankly, they’re little pains in the ass (I believe those were the very words Dr. Huxtable called Rudy in one episode; if I remember correctly, he then tossed a Jello pudding pop at her in frustration). And, what’s frightening is that Owen hasn’t even hit the “Terrible Twos.” Nonetheless, I anticipated and planned for this trying transition period. The crux of my plan centered on the assumption that I would be able to outsmart the boy. I figured Megan and I would be able to systematically bend Owen’s will to coincide with whatever it was we wanted him to do.

We’ll pause here briefly to allow the more experienced parents among those reading this to have a good laugh. I admit, hindsight can be hilarious. Particularly since I’m now beginning to understand that the boy might just be craftier than his parents.

Don’t believe me?

Owen loves milk. Left to his devices, he’d drink milk all day and forgo actual food. We’re constantly struggling to get him to eat more and drink less. “Mic? Mic?” (Owen’s pronunciation of “milk”) is about all we hear during meals. Megan has recently taken to bribing the boy: “Eat two more pieces of [Insert the food we’re vainly trying to feed him] and you can have milk.” He understands her too. Just the other night, Meg told him to eat a couple more bits of egg and he could have more milk. He stuffed them into his mouth and Meg filled his sippy cup. She handed him the cup and Owen promptly spit out the egg.

Meg ain’t a dummy. The boy just isolated the flaw in her proposition and outsmarted her.

Similarly, given the chance, Owen would spend each day watching Fireman Sam. He can’t get enough. From the time he wakes until the time he goes to bed, half of what he says is either “Sam,” or “Show.” It’s exhausting, especially if you’re trying to do something other than watch a cartoon about Welsh firefighters. One day, having already watched too much tv, he was again pestering me, “Sam? Sam? Sam?” He’d then punctuate it with a few tears and the odd moan for a little added spice. Rather than give in, I instead gave him the tablet. While there were several episodes stored on it, I made sure it was turned off and told Owen that the tablet was “tired” and that it needed to “sleep before we could put any shows on.” I figured the blank screen would frustrate him and, hopefully, prompt him to do something else. He took the tablet and climbed onto the couch. Some ten minutes later, it occurred to me that he was awfully quiet. A quiet toddler is a toddler up to no good, so I looked over and, to my horror, Owen, at twenty months of age, had figured out how to turn it on, how to load the video player, and how to load an episode of Fireman Sam. He was sitting there, contently, watching his show.

Crafty little bugger. This must be how he took control of his daycare class. He’s probably running an illicit candy operation under his minder’s noses — first he gives his classmates free candy and then jacks the price once he has them addicted to sugar. He’s got the pre-school kids smuggling it in and acting as muscle.

I like to tell myself these stories because it’s humbling to know that you matched wits with your toddler and lost.


July 1, 2013

I’ve lived much of my life in a metropolis. I always thought that the lights, the sounds, the excitement, the hustle and the bustle suited me. Whether any of that is true, at least anymore, is subject to debate and I now live in, as most of you know, The Vaughan. One thing beyond dispute, however, is that my time in urban Toronto shielded me from much of the natural world. Nature to me was a squirrel, a pigeon, and maybe an off-leash chihuahua. I don’t camp and I don’t hunt, so experiencing Ontario’s abundant wildlife outside of my urban enclave was never a priority — I’m told Canada’s national park system has still yet to heed my recommendation and invite Las Vegas’ MGM and the Bellagio resorts to build hotels in Algonquin Park.

It was somewhat of an eye opener for me then when we moved to The Vaughan. Though I initially felt my community’s wildlife was nothing more than roadkill that I had to swerve around on my way to work, that would soon change. As I’ve blogged before, voles are a scourge. I’ve warred against them almost from the day I set foot in our yard. The game with voles tends to play out the same: they destroy my grass over the winter, I counter in the spring by assaulting them with traps and decimate them to the point where they’re forced by summer to retreat to the protection of someone else’s lawn. Then, once the snow falls, and they’re able to conceal their movements, they return again in numbers and mount renewed aggression against my grass.

It’s a cycle of life thing.

After three years here, Nature threw us a curve this spring and, for the first time, I’ve been struggling to contain the damage Hoppy and his fellow rabbits have unleashed on my bushes. His dedicated regiment of long-ears has ganwed on our plants and has noshed on our grass. And, whereas Lowes and Home Depot offer a range of skull-smushing vole traps, rabbits are protected by provincial law and municipal bylaws — offing Thumper is strictly verboden.

So, with our hands tied, we’ve taken to enclosing the lower portions of our bushes in a quasi-protective mesh, meaning Hoppy now has to stand up to eat the higher branches. We haven’t stopped him, but we’ve certainly inconvenienced him. Score one for the Wormalds!

Fighting Nature is proving to be a full-time gig; and I have a medley of other full-time gigs: my actual job, chasing after Owen, making sure the cat is happy, and dutifully tending to my wife’s every waking desire. (That noise you hear is likely Megan laughing. Laughing is how Megan voices agreement. True fact!) Maybe it was the hippies, but since we returned from Vancouver, I’ve found myself having come to terms with The Vaughan’s wildlife. I’m not quite ready to end my ongoing struggle with the critters — I still like my grass — but I don’t hate them like I did. The voles and the rabbits will be a continuing nuisance… but that’s ok. Acceptance, I’m told, is an important part of growth. (I learned that from some television informercial I flipped on after Owen woke at 4 a.m. a few weeks back. Apparently, a free mental health assessment is but a 1-800 call away. Interestingly, I also learned that my vacuum should have enough suction to lift a bowling ball. Early-morning tv really is informative. No wonder insomniacs are such a wealth of information.)

This weekend, though, things got out of hand, and I’m struggling with my new-found acceptance. I was sitting in the living room this past Saturday morning and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a kitten traipse my deck. I scurried to the back door and saw not one, not two, but four kittens frolicking in my yard. They were tiny, no more than a month or two old. The mother made an appearance a short while later. I assumed they were making their way through the neighbourhood, so I quickly opened the door, hoping to shoo them on their way. One by one, almost like a class of children that had practiced evacuating their school during a fire drill, each kitten calmly made its way directly to the small hole a rabbit had earlier chewed along the facing of the deck.

They’re obviously living under my deck and they obviously know all the emergency exits. I can only assume they also practice the “Duck and Cover” technique for when we walk the deck above them.

First the voles wintered there. Then a bunch of rabbits made the deck their spring home. And now, a stray cat has used the deck as her maternity ward and, along with her new litter, is summering there. One would be excused were you to think that we’re running a wildlife B&B in our backyard. And with Owen’s kiddie pool set up, the cats must think they’re staying in a four-star resort. All we need is someone to serve cocktails and we can advertise our deck as an all-inclusive for animals.

And, at the rate new animals are setting up shop in the yard, I’ll soon be referring to it as Wormald’s Ark — a space for two of every creature in The Vaughan. I initially wondered if the cats might be runaways, but they’re far too distrustful of people to be domestic. And any thought of bringing them into the Wormald household was dashed when the first thing Megan barked after seeing them was, “Don’t feed them! Don’t feed them.”

A woman’s basic maternal instincts are a wondrous thing.

I’m not all that sure what to do with them. Obviously, I could block the hole, but there’s likely a few other entrances that I’m unaware of, meaning they’ll get in no matter what. I’m ultimately hoping they’ll book once the kittens are weaned.

On the other hand, I’m somewhat worried that word will spread and the deck will become rife with all sorts of pregnant animals: racoons and skunks under the lower tier; rabbits and cats and voles under the larger section. Soon I’ll have to get itty bitty incubators for the preemies and wheelchairs for the mothers leaving the unit. Once that happens, I’ll be on the hook for daycare and schools, parks for them to get exercise in. Heck, I’ll have to start giving thought to affordable family housing for them. Things are getting out of hand.

I have to say, no one told me this was what the ‘burbs would be like. The worst I had to deal with in Toronto was smog… and even then, I didn't really care. I assumed the hippies would take care of it. Here, I felt the worst I'd have to deal with would be constant street hockey, and maybe the odd BBQ with a neighbour I didn’t much care for. Instead, it’s crushed-voles, annoyed rabbits, and cat hospitals.

None of this was in the infomercial.