What We Did On Our Summer Vacation

It's cool today, and rainy, but I opened the doors and windows anyway, because it's the last day of summer vacation and I want to get as much of that summer air in the house as I can before we get back to the routine of walking here, walking there, packing snacks, hurrying up and going. This year I have got myself yet more taking and fetching to do in the form of an eight-year-old boy I'm looking after before and after school. He won't make much more work for me (I think, unless he turns out to be horrible, which I'm pretty sure he isn't) and he makes me quite a lot more money, so I expect that will be a net win.

But that's what's happening next, and I wanted to post about what we did this summer.

The first thing we did in summer vacation was a trip to the ROM, on the very first day after school ended. Getting there turned out to be quite an ordeal; the subway wasn't running, so we tried in various ways to outsmart the crowded shuttle buses; we took the number 11 back to Mount Pleasant, tried to catch a Mount Pleasant bus (almost lost Cordelia), then got back on another number 11 which magically turned into a Yonge Street shuttle. (We missed the most obvious workaround which is to take the normal 97 Yonge St bus.) All our fooling around killed enough time that they managed to get the subway running again by the time we got to St Clair, and we were back en route.

After all that we had a nice visit to the ROM, and saw both the Darwin and Wedgewood exhibits. Because my mother is from North Staffordshire of course we think we're related to both Wedgewood and Darwin, so I particularly enjoyed the exhibits. For that reason and also because both Staffordshire pottery and evolution are particularly close to my heart. And did you know ceramics and fossils have similar chemical properties? It's all connected.

I mentioned we almost lost Cordelia, but what I should say is that she almost lost us. We were all standing at the corner waiting for the bus, and the girls were fooling around on a little staircase, hanging on the banisters, walking down the hill, the usual fidgety little kid stuff. Suddenly Cordelia took off running in the opposite direction, crying and shouting. I wondered if perhaps she had been bitten by something, or seen a scary dog. I shouted her name but she didn't turn around, so Blake took off after her. She was running full-tilt so she got half a block before he caught up with her, and apparently she had lost track of us and thought we had lost her. She was petrified! She has a fear of being left behind or leaving someone else behind — if I don't stop and wait for Delphine while we're out walking she screams "Mummy 'top!" — and I guess she panicked and forgot to, oh, look around a full 360° before running for it.

Another adventure was a trip downtown to have lunch with Daddy. I wasn't sure whether simply going downtown would be enough excitement for two little kids, but Delphine kept saying "I love downtown!" We went to Queen and stopped at The Bay for some kid undergarments, and then walked along to John to Grange Park. Delphine and I had already walked along Queen a few weeks earlier when we went to the ballet, and I think she got a kick out of seeing places again. "This is where they always have a ice cream truck and a french fries truck!" We stopped for a snack on the landscaped median of University, under the statue of Adam Beck who apparently invented hydro-electricity. Apparently it still isn't cheap enough, because the fountain at his feet wasn't running. As we were sitting, Delphine looked up and said "That building says 'Canada Life'." Which it does! She reads everything now, signs and the writing on trucks and labels, which I remember doing as a kid and apparently Blake did too. Actually I still do it; if it's printed I have to read it.

One of our goals for this summer was to go out on a boat, so one fine Monday morning the girls and I went down to the Harbourfront. We walked along the boardwalk admiring the boats and ships, and looking for ducks, until I found someone selling boat rides. I asked him which was the cheapest one, and he said we could all go out on the Ste Marie for $11; it was to be a 45 minute ride leaving at 11:15, so we signed on. We turned out to be the only passengers on a tour around the Toronto islands; we saw nature preserves and Centre Island, swans and cygnets, and learned all about Ned Hanlan. Delphine won herself and Cordelia a lollipop each in a one-question trivia contest: "What lake are we on right now?" "Ontario Lake!" I had told her that very morning.

Our biggest adventure this summer was a surprise trip to Saskatchewan, surprise because I had intended to go at Christmas until I realized it would be fully twice a much money, to the tune of $4000 instead of $2000, to go at Christmas instead of summer. So we decided to go in August instead. I flew out there with the girls first, and my mother's saintly friend Shirley picked us up from the airport in Saskatoon. Blake came a few days later, and picked up a rental car and drove to Big River by himself, almost without incident!

Shirley also engineered the high point of the visit, a fishing trip in her motor boat. Delphine got to reel in a fish, and I also fished for the very first time. Blake caught the biggest fish of the day, but we released all of them in favour of some already-clean fish from Shirley's freezer.

We managed to stay quite busy in Saskatchewan, going out for lunch a couple of times, driving down to PA to see an old school friend, going to the school playground, visiting the farmer's market, shopping in Debden, or just going to get the mail. The girls had a great time with my mum; she let them watch as much TV as they wanted, eat cookies and play with all her thousands of tchotchkes. Blake said that between the cookies and fishing and Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! it was just like his visits to his grandparents in Winnipeg when he was a kid.

We also visited my Dad in the nursing home a couple of times. Last year, when Cordelia and I were in Sask in September, my dad had just moved into the nursing home and we visited every day. We chatted with him and had a nice time. This year I literally didn't recognize him at first: he was tucked up in a giant bed-like wheelchair and he had lost a lot of weight. With his teeth out he just looked like some generic old guy, skinny and wrinkly and not like my dad at all. It took a minute to recognize that nose and those ears, things that don't change, and then I realized that old guy was really my dad.

The first day we were there he didn't open his eyes or acknowledge us at all, apart from tapping his foot apparently in response to the songs that the girls and I sang for him. I was so shook up it took me a couple of days to gather the nerve to go again, but when I did I was sorry I had waited, because Dad opened his eyes and looked at me and the girls and smiled at us. But the next time we visited, again he didn't open his eyes. All I could do for him was ask the nurses to play music for him.

While we were in Sask the hospital called my mother to let her know that they are discontinuing his diabetes medication because he's not eating. I know my poor Dad is just trying to go, and there's no legal way we can make it easier for him. Humanity my ass.

The girls took it all in their stride. They asked why Grandpa doesn't talk or open his eyes, and I said he's really old and sick and he needs to sleep all the time. I said he's too tired to open his eyes or talk. They weren't upset about it at all, because they are still young enough that they take it in their stride, and because neither of them really knew him when he was lucid. Dad got to meet Delphine when she was three, but I don't know how much of that either of them remember.

My mother, on the other hand, is doing well by herself. She has friends and neighbours who help her out with things like mowing the lawn. The people in town — the pharmacist, the postmaster, the plumber (just like in a Richard Scarry book) — know her and look out for her. And of course she has her cats to torment her and keep her on her toes.

I remember when the children were younger the travel itself was the big worry, but there was hardly anything to talk about this time; I loaded up with activity books and little plane-friendly toys — a magnetic dress-up doll, some brilliant Micro Playmobil in its own little box, sticker books — and plenty of snacks, and we managed the three hours on the plane and two and a half hours in the car without much ado.

Since we got home from Sask we haven't had any grand adventures, although we have had a steady stream of playdates and visits. School starts next Wednesday and Delphine is looking forward to it. She was scared that she wouldn't like her teacher, until she received a welcome letter from said teacher in the mail and now she's excited and happy. Cordelia's school starts the following Monday — she's doing Monday, Wednesday and Friday this year. I don't know how that's going to go; she has been very clingy lately. I expect she will howl terribly, I will leave and she'll be fine within five minutes. I expect further that after a couple of weeks of school she will no longer be so clingy. There's nothing like confronting your fears, even when you're two and your mother makes you do it.

I think this has been a great summer. At the beginning I wondered if I should have enrolled my kids in a thousand camps and programs, like everyone else does (nevermind that we don't have the money). I decided I would rather not spend my entire summer ferrying everyone around, and that we would make our own fun, and so we did. There was a little whining that there's nothing to do, that we never go to the park, that our backyard is the worst in the world, and that everyone else gets to go away on holiday, but for the most part we got along with each other and found interesting things to do both near and far.

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