The joy of unexpected u-turns…

Another typical evening at the Gard household.  Everyone going off in different directions.  And so it was immediately upon finishing supper that we all left home together, half of us going in one direction and half in the other.  As my regular Thursday evening activity was cancelled, I was given the rare and exquisite privilege to accompany one child to the sporting extra-curricular activity of their choosing for the fall/winter season. One child, and only one.  So this is what that was like again.   It’s been a long time since I was quarantined in a van taking a road trip with only one.  Tonight’s line-up: minor hockey.  As my son’s first hockey game of the season happened to be this evening, the two of us set out in high spirits on a windy, rainy pitch-black night, heading toward our rink destination in a neighboring community.

Normally, at this time of the evening, I am fried.  Mentally, physically and verbally burnt out.  Tonight was no exception.  I was struggling to stay awake for the forty minutes it took to get to the rink.  I knew in my heart that this ‘one-on-one time’ would potentially be a great conversation op, but fatigue was getting the best of me.  I turned the heater on and then off again.  And after a few quick conversation starters, I told my son I was getting tired.  The radio needed to come on.  Thankfully, that got him a little more concerned for both of our well-beings.  So, he started talking more.  And I began to wake up.  As time got on, and we got closer to the rink, my son started to worry that we might not arrive at the rink with enough leeway for him to get his gear on and debrief before the game.

Nonplussed, I also tried to appear the nonchalant mother that I was pretending to be.  So I told Son, as he pressed me for info every five seconds, that yes, we were nearing the turn-off.  And of course we were nearing the turn-off.  I just wasn’t exactly sure how near or far away we were.  Precisely speaking.  Being as I was not exactly sure of my directions.  And also keeping in mind, it was a dark, rainy night.

Son was desperately wanting to get to that rink and fast.  And I was tired of him asking where the turn-off was for the road leading to the rink.  So I mentally decided that I would turn right at whatever road served my memory well, lining up with my recollections of what might possibly be the right turn-off for our rink date.  And in my mind, at this place in time, this actually seemed like a good idea.

So the very next road that we passed, I flicked on my blinkers and turned right.  Turning down a road that looked about right. Or so I thought.   True, there were a few houses that might have lined up with my vague memories of a road I’d traveled before.  Or did they really?  Was this just wishful thinking on my part?

But of course it was.  And I digress…

We were now late for the pre-game dress room pep talk along with the mildly disturbing fact that I knew we were traveling a road that might or might not be the right one to take us to the rink.   My son looked over at me and said nervously, “It would suck if this wasn’t the right road.  What if this is not the right road, Mom?”  And being the competent driver that I am, I avoided eye contact and kept looking straight ahead at the slick, black road.  Watching the road for tell-tale signs that we were on the right track.  Then using my most convincing voice, I told him this: “I think this is the right road.”

Famous.last.words.  Out of how many mouths have those words poured forth.  I now count myself with the masses.

Long story short, we ended up in a potato field where I did a u-turn, praying that I might not end up stuck in the mud somewhere out of cell range.  Oh wait.  I don’t have a working cell phone anymore.  So, I guess it really wouldn’t matter, now would it?  Does bad luck just follow me around, or what?

Once we got back to the main road, I realized it was actually the very next road that turned right that was the correct turn-off to take us to the rink.  Ah, yeeeeesss.  And I must say that when I saw the sparkling lights of the community ice rink at which Son was to play his first hockey game of the season, my heart issued a leap of joy quite unlike any other act of joyfulness I have experienced for quite some time.  Because I had finally arrived at the right place.  The lost had been found.  And I because I was at the right rink, even with being a little late, I knew I was also halfway home to Mill River.

And for me, that was half the battle fought.  In spite of the rain, the wind and the unfamiliar roads we’d be traveling, the ride home would be a cinch.

Joy is Precious…

I have corralled my screaming child in the church bathroom.  We are finishing up a weekend of family camp, and not only is camp done, but so am I.  And then some.  I now prepare for inevitable misery that is the stage we call “packing up and heading for home.”  Everyone loves to see a party end. And so it is, I must also round up the clan, gather up all their dirty odds and ends and then clean my otherwise unrecognizable children’s dirt-encrusted bodies before we start the unravelling of the rest of the afternoon.

Let the good times roll.

So here we are, at the sink, screaming and cleansing.  A purification ritual of sorts.  The immediate purpose of our visit to the restroom is to clean sticky little hands and feet.  The greater purpose for me is to stall for time, cleaning feet here rather than trying to round them all up at home where the mood will be even more dismal.  Littlest One screams another ear-piercing trill that echoes thunder through my head.  I don’t realize this yet, but this screaming will continue long and hard as we prepare to drive for home, and will relentless follow me into the van and on down the road as I drive to our house in Mill River East.  More tears, more pleas.  I think an extra-strength Tylenol is in my not-so-distant future.

I ask my child where her shoes are.  Of course, she does not know.

The screaming abates for a moment as I try to figure out what could possibly be so wrong that she must need lose her right lung and both my ears for it. She spits out her answer, the rage evident in every word.  She is upset because…wait for it, she wants a balloon tree.  A bunch of balloons on a stick, people.  I scrub the brown bottoms of little feet while I try to talk some reason into her.  To no avail.  Thankfully, my friend comes to the rescue with the diversion of a funny story, and thereafter produces one small smile and in due time, the missing shoes.  The lost are found, thankfully.  But there is still the minor issue of the balloon tree.

I leave the bathroom, still screaming child in tow, and I meet up with a second friend.  She is talking to another, but as soon as I approach, she stops chatting and turns to me.  And this is what she says:

“These times are precious.  Some day you will look back on this and you will remember that this was a precious moment.”

I am still inwardly fuming from the exchange in the bathroom, the struggle and the meltdown.  I am in no mood or state of mind to concur that yes indeed, this is pretty precious.  Exasperating? Yes.  Infuriating? Sure.  Precious?  I think not.

But I cannot help but consider these sentiments given to me in a gesture of goodwill.  It was meant for good, and that is how I will take it.  But I will agree to disagree.

As the afternoon rolls on, and the predicted unravelling of emotions, patience and kindnesses indeed occurs, I am reminded again of her warning to me.  To consider even this to be precious.  Even this?  This undoing of my mind even as I listen to the four in the backseat of our van laying into one another?  Even this?  The teasing of one at the expense of another?  That too?  The whining?  The crying?  The boredom?  The general malaise?

But yes, even this.  For there must be some good found in even the worst of moments.  After all, it can be the best of times while also being the worst of times.  And I am determined to not let it unravel me any further.

What is precious?  That which is rare and lovely and sought after.  I do not see these frequent blow-outs as coming anything close to rare.  Nor is a meltdown even half-ways lovely.  And I am certainly not seeking ardently for an afternoon spent in misery.  But precious can also mean fleeting.  And this is true.  These moments of childhood, these rites of passage are momentary.  They are fleeting, and in and of themselves, they are strangely precious in their own little ways.

I hold Little One close tonight, drawing her into a mother’s breast, snuggled under arms of love.  Arms that cradle and hold, soothe and protect.  And she leans in to me as I read a bedtime story.  And I know the wild preciousness of it all.

Joy…and unexpected tag alongs

Rushing, always rushing.  I grab a bag of snacks and wait impatiently the three minutes it takes the corn to pop.  My oldest daughter opens the side door of our house and hollers that one child is pulling another’s hair inside the van.  It will be an all-out brawl if I don’t get out there.   And get out there fast.  I move away from the noise and quicken my pace.

As predicted, a quarrel is certainly underway.  One child is crying, another is looking smug and still another is keeping track of the score.  The youngest is scolded, adding bellows to the fray.  Soon, her crying reaches a fevered pitch, and we have not yet pulled out of the driveway.  I glance over the barn yard and see my father-in-law tearing rotten shingles from the old milk house, looking like he wished he could melt into the woodwork.   I wonder what thoughts are going through his head as he watches this little scene.  I know what thoughts are going through mine.  I buckle seat belts, and we drive off in spite of the commotion.

The crying turns to screaming as I pull out the lane.  I am lecturing all the way, to no avail.  My youngest is enraged and there is no reasoning with her at this point.  I am sure my father-in-law is getting an earful as we turn and drive by him again to go up the side road.  I drive 2 kilometres before finally pulling over to the shoulder.  Warnings have been issued and this is the last straw.   Mama has had enough.  I turn the van around and we go home.  I am fuming, visibly beyond my breaking point.

And so it goes.  Life is full of moments like this.  My children quarrel, argue, whine and cry at different intervals throughout the day.  I lecture, negotiate, discipline and comfort in response to the ebb and flow of their behaviours and emotions.  Through it all, I look for blessed quietness in moments and find these moments where I might least expect them.

We take another road trip the following day, this time complete with Dad at the wheel.  I am looking forward to a few minutes alone to gift shop while the crew go to a park for a swim.  I unload towels, swimming trunks and snacks, moments from closing in on a deal.  I’ll be gone one hour, I promise my husband, Tops.  I turn to leave, and my eleven year old son says, Please, can I come too, Mom?  I try to mask my disappointment at his request, I know already that I cannot say no, but, oh, how I had so been looking forward to a few minutes by myself!  I begin to reason with him in the hopes of swaying him with the lure of a pool.  He is unmoved.  Can you and me spend some alone time together? he pleads.  I am touched, at this point, that he would choose me over all this.  I absorb his question, feeling the impact of my child’s petitioning.   And yes, I do open the door for him, and we drive off together to look through small shops.   I lead, and he follows.

I am surprised by the quiet and the ease with which I am able to work through my list with only this one child in tow.  We make small talk, and I realize how little time he and I have these days to just spend time together.  This, my first born, whom I played dinosaurs and blocks with, what feels like mere days ago, is now one interested in shoe shopping and gift selection.  I am so preoccupied with the little ones who need me most that I often overlook the older ones who need me also, but in different ways.  And I marvel at how this son of ours is growing up.  He is a young man now, and he needs to be acknowledged for the individual he is becoming.  We make our purchases and all too soon, the hour is up.  I head back to the park with a full heart.  I have been blessed by this unexpected glitch in my plan for the day.

Wise, we are, who understand that perspective is of utmost importance in the midst of everyday living. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.  (Anais Nin)  If we are feeling rushed and frantic, situations will look like crises.  If we are relaxed and level-headed, situations will appear manageable.  When children cry and fuss, it is often a matter of my perspective how the situation is interpreted.   That, and a realization that sometimes I just need to get away from the craziness and experience quiet reflection.  Sometimes that is the best immediate fix.  When life doesn’t turn out as planned, my perspective can be one of finding the good in that situation or seeing the bad.  Attitude adjustments will get one closer to the best perspective every time.  The more I line myself up to what I know to be True, that sure and steady foundation on which I base my parenting and my life choices, the easier I am able to handle what comes my way.

Hubby driving, I turn to look into the back seat of our van, as we head back home after a full day in town.  I am… thankful.  To be sure, there will be crying tonight, of that I can be certain!  And before long, someone will instigate a fight; but it is quiet at present, and peaceful.  I have innumerable blessings, and there are five I can count by name, riding with me towards home.


The Joy of the Public Washroom…and other adventures

MacDonald’s restaurant might just be the last place on earth where anything goes.  If it was up to me, I would never darken the doors of this particular fast-food joint, but with four children in tow, regular visits come with the territory.  I, for one, generally do not leave saying “I’m lovin’ it.” 

We are in some small town off the I-81 S in West Virginia, and it is decided that we need a bathroom break and a bite of lunch.  Although we have been rationing the liquids, we do have to pull over for a washroom break every few hours.  Since McDonald’s offerings include Wi-Fi and French fries, it is the place chosen for our pit stop.

I am still wearing winter boots, not exactly what the locals are sporting in these parts due to the double digit temperatures.  My husband maneuvers my suitcase out of the car carrier, while my son makes smart comments about me always needing the right pair of shoes.   Turns out I am not the only one changing outfits at McD.’s, as I will soon come to find out.

You could learn a lot about a person just by hanging out in a McDonald’s restaurant, and in particular, by spending any length of time in the washrooms.  I need to use the restroom but make a wrong turn, and find myself face-to-face with a tall man wearing a white shirt.  Turns out in this McDonald’s, the urinals are right next to the door.  How convenient.  I slink back to my seat in the dining area, and watch as the man walks out and stands within close proximity to my table while he waits for his wife.  I pretend to look out the window, while my husband laughs at me for my disregard of the gender signs. 

Let’s try this again.  I head back towards the women’s room , this time with my three daughters along to act as a safeguard, and we wait patiently for a young lady to finish taking care of business in the wheelchair accessible washroom.  She not only is without a wheelchair, but she has been using her fully able-bodied self to change outfits in this bathroom stall cum makeshift changing room.  Realizing that there is a line-up outside, she proceeds to leave and then finish the process of dressing herself in the open area, all while holding a pair of jeans turned inside out over her right arm.  In the adjacent stall to the one she has just vacated, there is another woman who has apparently decided that life is too short, and sometimes you need to take multi-tasking to a whole new level.  She is doing her business whilst talking on her cellular phone, and it appears that she is in conversation with a university about an upcoming semester of schooling.  I’m sure they would not have minded the heads up that the gurgling noise they hear in the background is not a waterfall of the outdoor nature.  She patiently discusses her options, all the while decreasing our own odds of getting in and out of this restroom in the next hour.

I have had bathroom adventures before, so I should say that nothing really shocks me anymore when it comes to happenings inside the four walls of any given washroom.  I was once at a beautiful beach in Prince Edward Island, when I needed to have a bathroom break.  Hoping for a quick in-and-outer, I was just about to open the door to wash my hands then head for the sand, when I heard a small cry in the stall next to mine.  Normally, I don’t like to pry when it comes to noises I hear in the echelons of a public washroom, but this time, the sounds actually sounded desperate.  Not natural.  And those sounds I heard were certainly, unmistakably needy of another human being’s assistance.  I did what anyone would do.  I looked around to see if there was anyone else who could come to the aid of this poor soul crying for help.   And there was not another person inside that bathroom.

I am one of those people who was gifted with a strong constitution, but not a strong stomach.  Smells make me shiver.  Bath and Body Works Wallflowers are my best friends.  Getting used to changing my own children’s dirty diapers was a learning curve for me, if not a lesson in how to talk to babies while holding one’s nose.  So, when I opened that door to the toilet, wherein I heard the cry for help, I was not prepared for the sights and sounds and indeed the smells that would await me. 

She was a very large woman. With all due respect, I have never had to unplug a person from a toilet before, and with good luck, I will never have this stroke of misfortune again.  She was as stuck as an over-sized beach ball thrown into a basketball net, and without me, she might still be there.  It took a few good pulls, but we finally unlodged her from her perch on that porcelain throne. I say we, because she was pushing as hard as I was pulling.  I am no weakling, but I should make clear that I weigh about 120 pounds dripping wet.  How I ever manage to set her free is beyond understanding.  After it was all said and done, and she had been popped from that toilet like a corkscrew on a good bottle of wine, I did a complete 180 degree turn and closed the door behind me.  As I was walking away, she thanked me graciously.  The very least I could do was give her the dignity of not a backwards glance.  I never did see her again.

These kinds of experiences just seem to follow me, from washroom to washroom, like a bad dream.  It makes me wonder how I am still able to use a public facility and vacate the premises without emotional scarring.  And in more ways than one, it has given me new reason to be discriminating about what room I take a rest in.  So, when I happened upon this McDonald’s washroom today, it was like a flash of memories in one long string of bad luck encounters.  I now understand why some wise and discerning inventor dreamed up the Port-a-Potty, bringing new meaning to the catch phrase, I’m lovin’ it.

This wonder of an invention is the traveller with children’s salvation from a McDonald’s (or some other public bathroom) inflicted nightmare, so long as you don’t forget to bring the toilet paper.

 And a generously over-sized bottle of handsanitizer for good measure.