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October 15, 2013

I’ve used this blog, almost since its inception, to tease about Owen’s behavior (or misbehavior, as it were). I’ve alluded to him in a variety of ways, but chief among the words I’ve used to describe him are: thug, hoodlum, and bully. While, depending on your point of view, they’ve all been applicable at one time or another — you’d whole-heartedly agree, for example, if you were the kid he just walloped — the boy is, in truth, a good kid. He’s actually a fun little dude to be around and he has a good heart. Really, Owen’s just a happy little boy and not a day goes by where he doesn’t make his Mummy or Daddy smile.

Like all kids, he can be a devil, especially when you appreciate that he’s purposefully pushing the boundaries of your patience. He’ll push your buttons and probe for a reaction: What happens when I turn the TV off? What happens when I refuse to eat my dinner? What happens when I throw something at Mummy? He’s as relentless as he is fearless. But let’s face it, that’s not unlike most toddlers. They’re exploring their environment and exploring what it means to interact with the people around them. It’s part of growing up.

Most of the boy’s days, and by default most of his interactions, are spent at Daycare. Between Facebook and this blog, I’ve written about many of his day-to-day encounters there. Naturally, I’ve tended to focus on the more fantastical moments — like, as an infant, when he threw up in his crib, leaving behind a rank odour moments before the site administrator gave a set of new parents a tour of that very room; or when, during his first week in the toddler room, he bit a little girl for seemingly no reason…

Owen’s infant-room minders absolutely loved him. Their adoration towards the boy echoed that of his Grandma: “We love him;” “He’s such a good little boy;” “We can’t wait to see him each day.” They were another in a long line of people that see Owen as a water walker. He could simply do no wrong in their eyes. Their views did change slightly towards the end of his stay in the infant room, though. By then, he was by far the oldest and the biggest kid in the room and he quickly learned that it was easy to snatch the toys from the wee, little babies — especially the ones that couldn’t move. Still, his teachers always seemed to treat him with an “Aww shucks, he’s so cute” mentality, which seemed only to further exacerbate his misbehavior. I was once regaled with the details of an incident where Owen sat on a ten-month-old’s head and stole her toy doll. As the story went, they scolded Owen about his misdeed and then promptly gave him a big hug when he flashed them a gummy smile.

Yeah, that’ll learn ‘em.

His teachers in the toddler room have always been a little more immune to Owen’s charms. In speaking with them, they’ve never held him up to be the Second Coming like they did in the infant room. They see his toothy smile for what it is and, from what I’m told, they lean on him fairly hard. Megan and I are all for this. We love him more than life itself, but after you watch your kid try to pull the cat from the table by her tail, you welcome whatever outside behavioural help you can get. He can be handful when he wants to be, so if they too want to spend their time teaching him that it’s not polite to punch a little boy in the head, then have at it.

Still, despite whatever terrorist activities the boy perpetrated at Daycare, the over-riding sense has always been that his toddler-room teachers have genuinely enjoyed having Owen in their class. He has such an infectious spirit. He spends much of his day canoodling his teachers and their assistants, and you get the feeling their affection for him is heartfelt. In fact, it’s rare that more than a day or two ever goes by where someone, anyone, doesn’t tell me how much they enjoy their time with Owen. Even the parents of the boy’s chums tend to compliment me on the his enthusiasm and on the sheer joy he presents. This, naturally, made the news we received all the more concerning.

Owen’s Daycare minders have quit.

All of them.

Each toddler class (there’s two of them) is staffed by three people. They are complimented with a number of assistants that float through the facility throughout the day — but his particular room is, above all, staffed by three key individuals. Owen loves them. They seem to care for my son. They each turned in their resignations.

Seriously, all of them.

I’m not sure what it says about me or the boy, but the first thing I wondered was, “What did Owen do? Is he that bad?”

I mentioned this mass resignation to a friend; his first words to me were, “Did Owen have a hand in that?”

Ummm…. No? Maybe? Maybe, no?

The centre released a letter bidding farewell to each teacher and noted that they were taking on opportunities at other Daycares. I suppose it’s naïve to think that my son would be wholly responsible for driving three teachers, each with an average of ten years at that Daycare facility, out the door, but…

Similarly, the centre was recently taken over by a larger Daycare and a lot of changes have since been put into effect. It’s not a stretch to suggest that each teacher, in their own way, might be upset with some or all of these changes. In the limited time I had to speak with his now ex-minders, they were evasive when I asked about the reasons they had for leaving. “Closer to home;” “Smaller facility;” etc.

Sure, maybe. But…

We took Owen to Kindergym again this past weekend. Things were going well until the boy decided he wanted to play with a particular toy in the corner of the room. It was one where you toss little beanbags at a board and try to get them through the holes. Owen was hoarding the toy and grew cross at another little boy who showed the temerity to try and play with one of the beanbags.

A tussle ensued.

The other boy’s mother ran over and chastised her son for trying to take Owen’s beanbag. This apparently seemed a rational response to her since no one would ever expect my son to be content playing with only seven beanbags — he clearly needed all eight. She took the eighth beanbag and handed it to Owen before marching her son away. Regardless of whether she actually believed her son was the instigator, or whether she just figured it was easier to separate the two, Owen won … again. He pushed; the little boy shoved; Owen would up with all the beanbags. My son always knows how far he can push. It’s why he turns the TV off, and why he doesn’t eat his dinner, and why he throws things at Mummy. That other little boy shoved too hard and too long. Owen has the game down to a T. He knows how to win.

To that end, there’s a part of me that wonders if this isn’t reminiscent of what happened at Daycare. I rather wonder if a “tussle” between my son and his Daycare minders hasn’t been going on since the day he transferred from the Infant room. Longing for the days when his teachers hoisted him onto a pedestal and, unhappy they're pushing him to use his powers for good instead of evil, did my son, over the weeks and months, fight for control of the toddler room’s proverbial “beanbags?” Did he wear them down such that they finally threw in the towel and quit? Speaking from experience, I can attest with complete honesty that it’s both humbling and exhausting to match wits with my kid. He’s smart and he plays dirty. But really, can I, with any degree of certainty, say that Owen is chiefly responsible for three teachers each quitting within days, or even hours, of one another?

No. No I can’t.

All I know is that, as three new teachers ready to take up the torch in Toddler Room 2, Owen is standing there waiting for them… and he’s holding all the beanbags.


October 10, 2013

And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth…

The other night started much like any other. The birds chirped. The leaves were turning colour. The Vaughan was still The Vaughan. It was serene. It was quiet. It wouldn’t last. Things would change when for a brief, terrifying spell, the world around me burned.

Earlier, Megan left the boy and I to our devices and went to the mall to run a few errands and get her hair cut. Owen had been good to that point: he ate his dinner, he didn’t punch the cat, and he was seemingly content to play with his toys and while away the evening.

It was bath night, so shortly after Mummy said her goodbyes, the boy and I made our way upstairs. Owen skipped into his room and I ran the water in the tub. The bath is always a bit of game in the Wormald household. I fill the tub and then look to catch the boy as he darts from room to room, trying his best to keep me from taking his clothes and diaper off. He laughs, I groan, and a good time is had by all.

As luck would have it, this night proved rather easy; I almost immediately caught him milling around the garbage can in his bedroom. I stripped him of his top and bottoms, took his diaper off, and then watched as he ran naked from his room. The boy’s quick as a rabbit, but his running style is more of a frenzied quick step than an elegant gallop. You need to keep a close eye on him once his clothes are off, though. We’ve caught him on more than one occasion peeing on the carpet after he’s been stripped bare. It’s as if the only thing he can think to do once he’s naked is to pee. He comes to a complete stop, squints his eyes, and just lets it all go…

I plopped him into the water and washed his hair. After letting him play for ten or fifteen minutes, I scooped the boy from the tub and, after drying him off and dressing him in his pajamas and socks, we made our way to the master bedroom where I’d let him watch a couple episodes of his favourite cartoon, Fireman Sam. It was closing on 7:30. The boy is usually in bed by 8:00. A couple ten-minute episodes of everyone’s favourite Welsh firefighter would keep Owen both happy and, more important, still until bedtime.

Toddler’s cartoons are awful —and I mean mind-numbingly bad. Fireman Sam isn’t “too terrible,” but he’s seen every episode more than I’d care to say. That we sing the theme song together as a family speaks volume. You could see that, as the first episode ended and the second began, Owen was fading. His eyes were red and they were getting heavy. Owen’s stubborn (he gets that from his Mummy; definitely, in no way, does he remotely get that from me) and, rather than giving in and going to bed early, he’ll fight to stay up as long as possible — especially if there’s TV to be had.

Finally, when the credits rolled, and the show was over, I told Owen it was time for bed. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a tussle. No tears. No demands for another episode. He just hopped off the bed, said goodnight to the cat (she had joined us at some point during the first episode) and he ambled the hall and into his room.

This was the easiest bedtime… well, ever.

I tucked the boy into his sleep sack and carried him to the chair in the corner of his room. Our night time routine, once he’s in his pajamas and his sack is to sit and read a book or two. His favourite book, at least lately, is a compendium of Curious George stories. Mostly, he just wants to look at the pictures and say aloud the names of all the animals and objects he recognizes. This went on for a few minutes before I told him that it was “sleepy time,” and that it was “time to lay down.”

That is when the world first caught alight.

As I was about to get up, I noticed that Elmo and Dino were gone. Owen sleeps at night with three things: a small blanket; a stuffed Elmo doll; and a stuffed dinosaur that we’ve affectionately named Dino (pronounced ‘dye-no’ — as in dinosaur; not ‘d-ee-no’ — as in the Flintsone’s dog).

I remembered that Elmo was downstairs. I’d need to go fetch it. Dino, I assumed, was in Owen’s room somewhere. He tosses it sometimes when he wakes in the morning. I stood up and gently laid my son into his crib. Finding a lost Elmo or blanket are important; finding Dino is bloody paramount.

“Dino.” Owen said.

“I know, buddy. I’ll get him for you.” Dino wasn’t under the crib.

“Dino!” he said.

I scanned the room and couldn’t see it.

“I’m looking, sweetheart.”

Owen stood in the crib and defiantly said, “DINO.”

From the time he was very young, the only stuffed animal he’s ever shown an affinity for was this little blue dinosaur. It’s the only stuffed toy we took to Vancouver with us and, for Owen, it’s the only “must have” at night. And I couldn’t find it.

Dino is a soothing mechanism for Owen; he sucks on the tail as he falls asleep. It’s actually gross as, over time, the tail turns more black in colour than blue. Mummy washes the toy almost weekly as it also starts to go rank after a while. Dino is so important that, when we were no longer able to properly clean it (there came a point where the black stopped fully washing out), we were forced to look for a “replacement Dino.”

So desperate were we to find another, and unable to find one on the open market, that I went so far as to call both the toy’s North American and European distributors in a vain attempt to snag a new, non-smelly, less-black dinosaur. Unwilling to meet the minimum order of 120 units, we resorted to desperate measures. Dino was originally a gift from his Grandma. Fortunately, she also gave one to our nephew. We sheepishly enlisted Megan’s mom to ask whether Owen could have it. Megan’s sister and our nephew were both kind enough to give us their Dino and, shortly thereafter, Owen was plied with an almost pristine dinosaur to suck on.

Flat on my stomach, I searched the floor frantically for Dino. Owen was angry. I ran downstairs and grabbed Elmo. It might placate him, I thought, while I continued the search. I hurdled the stairs and ran back into his room. I was greeted at the door by the boy’s socks. He’d tossed them at me in protest. Things were getting out of hand. Owen then took Elmo and threw it at me as well.

Things were now worse; he was pissed.

I darted from room to room. Not in the guest room. Not in my bedroom. Not in the bathroom. Not in the den. I swore as I heard the first cry erupt from the crib. Thinking he might have brought it downstairs with him earlier that morning, I started a highly-regimented grid search from the front door to the living room. It was nowhere to be had.

Wondering if Megan might know the whereabouts of this lost dinosaur, I grabbed the phone and called my wife. The call failed. Rogers, our cell provider, was having a national outage. I had no way to reach her. The gods were toying with me. I’d deal with them later. I was busy — I couldn’t find Dino, my son was pissed, and suddenly the walls were closing on me. If I had more time, I would have organized a search party and made posters. Were things not so dire, I’d have plastered Dino’s picture on milk cartons. Hell, at that point. I’d have enlisted Jerry Lewis for a telethon if I thought it would help.

But Owen couldn’t wait that long. Owen’s voice chirped through the baby monitor, “Daddy, Dino. Now! NOW, DADDY!” I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

“Daddy, Dino! Dino, Daddy. Now!”

I could hear footsteps outside. I reckoned it was the Four Horsemen; War and Disease were sitting on the porch while Famine and Death were having a smoke. Time was suddenly fleeting.

I ran back upstairs. It had to be up there. Soon, if I couldn’t find that toy, my son would become the anti-Christ. I had to find Dino; I had to find it soon. I stood in the center of Owen’s room. My son was a savant: “Dino, Daddy. Dino, Daddy. Dino, Daddy.” But Dino was gone; Mummy wasn’t there to help; and I would be forever known, henceforth, as the father that lost Dino.

…and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.

I turned to Owen and, with a depth of sadness I can’t find the words to describe, I said, “I’m sorry, Owen, I can’t find Dino.” I hung my head, reached to turn out the light, and waited for my fate.

And then, for reasons I cannot explain, I looked to my right and spied his garbage pail — the very one he’d been playing beside just before I bathed him. I walked over, opened the lid and there, staring up at me, was a stuffed dinosaur.

“Dino,” I cried!

It was a The Vaughan miracle! I grabbed the toy and, before I could hand it to Owen, I heard the sounds of hooves galloping away and into the distance — prowling for other lost souls, and/or other daddies that had lost their kids’ blue dinosaurs.

Owen snatched Dino from me and stuffed the tail into his mouth. “Bye, Daddy,” he said. Owen then rolled over and closed his eyes. There would be no Apocalypse on this particular evening.

I marched downstairs and grabbed a stout libation. Megan arrived home shortly thereafter. “Hi sweetie, do you like my hair? Was Owen a good boy?”

“A little angel,” I said.

October 7, 2013

I was nervous as I made the right-hand turn into the parking lot. I’d been counting the days until I needed to do this. What I was about to do had hovered above me for some time, but it needed to be done. I needed to get it done. The lot was empty and I quickly found a spot. The butterflies started fluttering as I parked the car. For all my words, and for all the blathering I’d done over the past couple years, this was the closest I’d ever come to seeing it in person. I grabbed my things from the passenger seat when I was suddenly struck by the enormity of what I was about to do. The butterflies were gone, replaced by a rumbling in the pit of my stomach.

I’ve skewered them for their countless failures. I’ve needled their inability to do anything correctly or in a timely manner. I believe I may have even tossed out few expletive-laden comments about their collective ability to chew gum and not fall down.

And so, there I was, standing in the rain. I held back a moment to take it all in. Before me was my white whale. I gathered my courage and, once I was sure of myself, I made my way to the entrance. This past Friday, I needed to apply for construction permits.

So I went to The Vaughan city hall.

The true mark of a man is his willingness and his ability to confront that which is hard — that which frightens him. So, once Megan said she wouldn’t do it, like a man, I drove to city hall.

I entered through the main doors. I figured a grand entrance was the best way to announce my arrival. I walked in like I owned the place. I was confident, self-assured, and trying my best not to pee myself. I kept my head up. I maintained a stout demenour and I moved with a gait that would never suggest that I had previously said that The Vaughan’s civil service would be considered substandard in most third-world countries.

I scanned the foyer, half expecting alarms to go off when my image was identified by the city’s facial recognition software. Nothing. The dreams I had of The Vaughan Illuminati rappelling to the ground while screaming, “That’s him! He said mean things about us! Get him!” were for naught. In fact, the security guard posted at the central doorway mustered a smile at me. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure whether, in hindsight, there was even a single sniper training his sights on me.

Either it was an elaborate ruse meant to lure me deeper into the bowels of the building’s cavernous interior or hasn’t the reach I anticipated.

My eyes darted from face to face. No one seemed to be paying me much mind. I needed to find the Building Standards Department. Left? Right? Up? Down? I wasn’t sure, but I knew that I wanted out of there. Criticizing from afar was easier than actually facing the people whose incompetence I might — might — have suggested was mob-influenced. I spied an affable young lady across the hall manning an information desk. I walked over and asked for directions. Much of what she told me is a blur, possibly because my voice may have cracked mid-sentence. I do remember, however, that she smiled — they seem to do that a lot at The Vaughan city hall… how devious! — and pointed to a hallway, down the corridor, just to the left a series of elevators.

I nodded acknowledgement, thanked her, and promptly high-tailed it in that direction. Along the way, I walked by a handful of different people. Again, no one acted as if they were even remotely aware that I had once called them “purveyors of urban sprawl,” or that I may have suggested that they should all be replaced with East Gwillimbury’s civil service. Once I passed the elevators, I turned down the hallway as instructed. It was long and narrow and a light was out, making it darker than its surrounding passageways. The rain outside made things feel muggy and, for an instant, I felt like Charles Marrow travelling down the Congo. I entered the Building Standards Department and waited to face Mr. Kurtz.

I was met with a range of voices — each of them yelling, each of them quite angry. There was no one lined up in front of me, but there were two people at the desk venting their frustration. The first guy was swearing left and center about his permit being denied. I could see a vein throbbing over his left eye. The second fellow was incensed about something and was making sure the two attendants knew he wasn't happy.

I was in the right location!

The young guy behind the counter started reading the summary report about the first chap’s application. It was difficult to make out over the swearing, but it had something to do with insufficient ducting. The second guy had a question about his backyard fence and didn’t like being told that he was in the wrong department (he needed to yell at the people in the Bylaw department instead).

As I stood in line, waiting for these other guys to tire of yelling at their The Vaughan representatives, I got to wondering: Where was the fellow that helped me fix the grass in front of my house? He was helpful and, thus far, the only person at city hall that had ever followed through on any of their promises. Sure, the date he projected the grass would be fixed by was off by several months. And, yes, he was incorrect when he told me the work on the sidewalk along the side of my house would be finished by now (it hasn't t started). And, it’s equally true that he dismissed out-of-hand my suggestion that the newly-planted shrubs along the side of my house are, in fact, along the very route route the adjoining walkway will eventually have to take... But, by The Vaughan’s standards, he’s tip top!

The guy with an apparent ducting problem was shuttled to a side room so he could holler at someone else. It was now my turn. I nervously handed over my sets of plans and my application. The stone-faced dude behind the counter took each sheet, scanned them, made a mark on a couple pages, and then handed me an invoice, “That’ll be $212.50. You can pay down the hall. NEXT!”

That’s it?

No, “You didn’t do ‘such and such,’” or “You forgot ‘this and that,’” and there wasn't even a “Didn’t you write that my colleagues and I grossly incompetent?” In total, I was there less than two minutes. The guy was polite and even complimented the thoroughness with which I completed the forms.

He clearly doesn’t read this blog. I may need to advertise better.

I left the department and walked to a small booth down that hall that handled the financial transactions (they were the only ones entrusted with that gizmo that processes debit and credit cards). Much like the people ahead of me, I had assumed I’d be there all morning, yelling and screaming at the absurdity of some minor variance that I had neglected. I fully expected to be denied the initial application because it was Friday morning and basement applications are only accepted on the third Tuesday of every month, assuming of course that it wasn’t also the spring or fall equinox.

Nope. “Pay down the hall.” The fellow ran my credit card. Even that went well. Frankly, nothing thus far had proceeded as I had envisioned. My white whale was more a beige guppy. The civil servant handed me my credit card and told me I would hear the status of my application in ten business days.

And there it was… It finally made sense. The Vaughan needed a couple weeks to sift through my application and find reasons, any reason, to deny it! Naturally, The Vaughan can’t do anything willy-nilly; it needs time to get its bureaucratic incompetence in motion.

Ten days.

I left city hall, turned, shook my fist and yelled, “Do your worst, The Vaughan! I’m ready for you!”