One October afternoon time was chugga chug chugging nice and slow. Soft sculpted clouds freeze-framed across the sky parading sleepily for a small boy and his dad. Late autumn dampness was creeping though our clothes as we lay side by side in the still green grass. The sun was at its warmest warm for this time of year. It was glorious mundi. We had fallen into a moment of now that rippled through the rest of our backyard adventure.
Inspired by shiny dots of silver with pluming contrails in the sky Noah rolled over and pushed himself up. “A plane papa, I want to be a plane”, he pointed upwards. He spun around, ran toward me and launched himself into my upstretched arms. Still on my back, I manoeuvred him until he was resting tummy down on my raised legs with his arms winged out. We got clearance for about 20 quick take-offs for destinations we know and love – Montréal, San Diego, Barbados and of course Halifax. Noah was the pilot and the plane, the sky and the earth as he soared above a world of his making. He buckled me in on his flights. I was the lucky dad tumbling into make believe looking up at eyes lit with laughter and a smile stretched from cheek to cheek on my son’s cherubic face.
The afternoon was full of simple, fun moments. We raced around the house 4 or 5 times. The uphill climb from back to front yard tuckered out Noah’s little legs. He more than made up for it on the flat stretches bursting into high gear. Giggling seemed to be the fuel that got us through the blistering pace as we circled the house. With each pass we waved at maman through the picture window on our way to the downward slope and return to the backyard.
We did a little training that afternoon too in preparation for the next day’s tiny tots soccer – a weekly organized activity led by 3 young enthusiasts for 10 or so little ones aged 3 to 5. Noah started his soccer career at about 16 months. Kicky ball is the name he made up for one of his favourite running and up and down the hallway activities. He had at least 10 balls to choose from and we’d pretend that he was a star striker for Barcelona. I’d provide the colour commentary play by play as he moved the ball up the hall and let fly with a fierce shot that went right through the door jamb uprights – un but.
It’s still a game that we like to play in the backyard as we did that afternoon. I suit up as Man U – my Mom’s favourite team – but invariably the dazzling footwork of the Barcelona Kid takes us down to defeat. I added some drills to the menu that Noah had been doing at the tiny tots too. He had red light, green light nailed – when to go, when to stop and how to control the ball. The Simon Says exercise was another story altogether. It took the longest while for him to understand that he was only to perform a requested action when it was prefaced by Simon Says. He grasped the concept finally at the end of a long trail of laughter.
We also invented our own game that afternoon, table top handball. We had a lot of laughs propelling a spinning mini soccer ball across a glass table – more than I would have ever thought imaginable.
During Noah’s nap time that day, Nellie-Rose and I packed ourselves up and headed across the Caldwell Road into Dartmouth for a surprise visit with Gramma Helen, aka GH. Nellie’s one imperative wherever she’s at is to get in, get at, get on, get under places that she isn’t supposed to be. It’s a constant chase, run, apprehend and replace her bum on the floor in a safe, neutral zone. Saucy is GH’s favourite adjective for our Nellie-Rose and it’s a good one. If we considered a continuum of saucy, saucier and sauciest we’d have to place Nellie in the superlative zone. She is without a doubt bold and lively. An argument could be made for flippant too as it’s a rare toddler that can be labeled serious. Our girl was all sauce and cheekiness that afternoon. It was good for Nellie to have some one on one time with GH, to shine her own sun, to giggle, crawl, laugh, pull herself up to GH’S chair and get her little cheeks pinched. It was a mighty fine visit.
Our mid-October return from Barbados signalled the inevitable, the unthinkable, the inescapable. Our 180 days of magic were trickling into the wrong end of the hour glass. We had plenty of fun before the last grain of sand dropped though. It was a time to settle into our own particular brand of domestic bliss, to enjoy the recently purchased house and to establish some new routines in our Eastern Passage home.
There were plenty of milestones and much excitement in those few weeks. Les petites cousines de Gatineau came to visit for 4 or 5 days. Maxim and Catherine have about the same age gap between them as do Noah and Nellie. They’re younger – Maxim is still part of the 2-year-old club. Noah and Max were good together and Noah was very happy to have a playmate for days on end. We made a trip out to our local beach with hard packed sand, an ever constant blow and cresting waves in an endless march to land. We played a magnificent jam session worthy of being chronicled by the late, great Dr. Seuss. We brought to life a fantastic variety of musical knicks and knacks with a great puffing and banging and shaking and clanging. It was cacaphonous din par excellence, free form, undisciplined and unapologetic noise. Noah was sad when they hopped into the van bound for the airport and Gatineau. I hope the 4 of them will continue to make memories together and enjoy each other’s company over the years.
Noah was a terrifying spider at Hallowe’en letting loose with a deep, dark roar that echoed throughout the house. “All right”, he cried out jubilantly as he left each lighted doorway with a new treat in his bag. He’s still young enough that it was the event that was paramount. His candy loot is tucked away in a dark cupboard forlorn and forgotten, languishing in a ribbed fabric pumpkin we bought in Scotland a couple of years ago. Nellie was dressed up in a sweet green and orange felt suit with matching cap and looked like she was just plucked from the pumpkin patch. She stayed home with papa to help pass out the candies a job that Noah took on after he returned from his trick or treating adventure with maman.
One Saturday we scooted down the 101 to the Valley where the summers are hotter, the winters colder and snowier than coastal Halifax. We went for the U-pick apples inside Wolfville’s town limits. We’d done this the last couple of years with my folks and my brother’s family. This year it was a solo run and as it turned out we were late by a week or two. The trees were bare and the pumpkins looked rough – partially decomposed and withering on the vine in their patches. We had a walk through the orchards and bought some bagged apples at the retail outlet.
In Grand Pré on the other side of Wolfville we stopped at the Evangeline Inn. Their café is now a traditional lunch stop for Valley outings. We got in just under the wire as it closed the next day for the season. The place has a well deserved reputation and gets great word of mouth. It’s always busy and there’s often a wait to get seated. The food is good. Their pies are the subject of apocryphal rural legends, their lobster sandwiches generous and succulent and the service is excellent – genuine down home and friendly. I will always associate the café with the day we took out Tomoyo prior to her departure for Europe and ultimately Japan.
Some other notables include Noah’s first visit to the dentist. He and maman are looking after his teeth very well. The dentist and staff created an environment where he was at ease and confident of what was going on around him. They did an excellent job and Noah walked away with a new toothbrush and a treat. All the while that Noah was in the chair, Nellie watched intently. When she got bored she had a lovely view looking south along Argyle St. and was a patient little doll. For an interesting sense of perspective on dentists, read this classic text, Body Ritual Among the Nacirema, that is a standard in many introductory anthropology courses. It continues to give me a smile 30 years down the road.
There’s been a good crop of Noahisms over the last month or two. Some of the recurring ones are: ça c’est close; ça c’est cool; oh mands not even sure of this transcription but we think it’s supposed to mean oh man; and, pronounced in a tone of ‘can’t you see for yourself’ disbelief, papa, come on.
Noah has had another visit with a speech language pathologist as we continue to experience some challenges in understanding everything he has to say. His communications are substantial both in content and volume. We’re not picking up on everything because of problems around pronunciation and speed of delivery. The specialist said that although he is having difficulty with some consonants, he is storytelling at the level of a 5 or 6-year-old.
He does have a flair for the dramatic. When Noah asks to do something and receives a negative response, he immediately hunches his shoulders forward in a very exaggerated posture, bows his head, looks forward obliquely and incants in a quavering voice that speaks to the unconscionable injustice of the situation, “I never, never, never get to _________” – fill in the blank with whatever he has just been denied. This brief, yet highly charged spectacle in which he has the only starring role is becoming less common of late. When it does happen it’s hard to keep a straight face. The transformation into the despondent, shoulder scrunch super-boude pouty sulk is instantaneous. It’s a character performance piece, method acting for the under 5s. Robert DeNiro watch out.
I got fixated one afternoon on getting Noah some hot wheels. I remember my brother’s loop-the-loop track that he absolutely adored those many years ago. I headed over to the mall with Nellie and went to Toys ‘R Us – not a store I visit very frequently. They had an entire section dedicated to hot wheels and they were all far more complex than anything I remembered. I was overwhelmed, even a little intimidated by the choice and it took me 15 minutes of rooting around, looking at illustrations on the boxes and reading to make a decision. At one point I was just going to leave empty handed as I didn’t see anything similar to what was tickling my memory. Then I saw the 4-lane raceway. This was the closest to the double strips of orange plastic track that my brother had. It wasn’t quite as adaptable but we’ve been having a lot of fun revving the motors and racing to victory.
The sand finally ran out of the hour glass and I had to return to work. I’ve been back in the office for 14 days. It’s been a transition for all of us here at home. There are no words that can adequately express the splendour of this gift of time that we shared. We have had some marvellous adventures over the months that we’ll hold dear for years to come. Yet what strikes me is that it was the daily comings and goings, the small things, the unhurried play, the leisurely visit, a seemingly endless horizon of togetherness that were truly extraordinary. We are very thankful for the moments and the memories…….
I’m well beyond the 180 days now, blogging on borrowed time. You can find our post parental leave stories at Commuter Dad.