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Sock it to you Dad

Commuter Dad is taking a break. I’m on a parental leave sabbatical. I’ll start blogging here again in early August when I’m hopping the bus and sailing on the ferry twice a day bound for Halifax and then home to the kids and Mé in The Passage.

Until then, I’m writing about my parental leave comings and goings with three tots under 5 and a loving mama and wife at The Finest Gift.

Our first 50 days with Lila-Jeanne have been marvelous. Nellie and Noah’s excitement about their little sis is still running high. Life has livened up for Mé and I too.

Lila has just recently started smiling and is putting together her own vocabulary. We have our best conversations during diaper changes. It’s playtime – talk, listen and mimic.

Although Lila’s growing at an astounding pace we’re still in the new baby smell zone. It’s the most intoxicating aroma I’ve ever come across. It is the essence of beauty, wonder and promise that commingles to form a heady extract, an incomparable baby elixir. It’s a joy to relive beginnings all over again.

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New kid on the block

Lila-Jeanne is here now on the sunshine side of the womb. She is beautiful beyond the singing of it. Just before dawn she surfaces from her heroic struggle. Breaking through, she lets loose with an impassioned caterwauling filling her lungs with air for the first time. Under her membranous wrapping she is our rosy pink gift – warm, spluttering movement, uncertain and authentically surprised.

Mélanie sweats, grinds, bears down, pushes, struggling through the pain. Bands of steely muscle contract and loosen. Her body marches inexorably to a final unwinding. She is courageous beyond the telling of it. A last determined push helps propel Lila out to our side. Her serpentine cord, that inimitable bond, unravels like a lazy spring. In an instant, nine long months of anticipation become a joyous eternity. Her presence overwhelms us. Lila is laid on Mélanie’s breast – mother and daughter heartbeat to racing heartbeat.

I am buoyant, awash in a warm sea inhaling life’s elemental scent. This is pure joy. I am a lucky man to experience this miraculous moment one more time. I cradle Lila in my arms, our first skin-to-skin touch, and look into her small, awakened face. She stops crying as I gently rock her while walking back and forth. I’m pleased the tears pause. Just maybe I’m emitting some subliminal positive vibes that are helping her in some small way.

Did I mention that maman shows her champion mettle throughout this crescendo of breathe, push, pain – breathe, cry, birth – baby, sigh, smile?

It wasn’t always a sure thing though. Mélanie was convinced we would be returning home to The Passage with her big belly intact. Three hours after checking in dilation was still only at 2 cm. We walked around and around and around the small maze garden to stir things up after the early labour nurse gave it a go too. It didn’t appear that the stirring was going to take.

It was a relatively calm evening so we got checked into a birthing room. Mé took a long warm bath and soon afterward the contractions picked up intensity and frequency. After several waves, Mé decided it was time to call on the purveyor of the epidural – the magic man. As well as diminishing the pain, the anesthetic provided an energy jolt.

Mé was in her groove initiating conversations with the nurses about family and children, reaching out to learn about their lives. One of the nurses works regularly in remote communities in northern Manitoba. Mélanie was able to share her Poplar River experiences from many years ago. It was one of the few communities the nurse had not yet visited.

Our main nurse was with us right through to the birth. She is the same age as my oldest daughter and has two young children of her own – one pre-schooler, one school age. She was a sweet heart helping Mé throughout the night. She is a member of the Salvation Army and one of her pastors was a close friend of mine during high school. The world can be so small and beautiful.

Our doctor had been alerted earlier in the evening and received a second call to haul her out of bed and get her to the hospital. On arrival she told us she had already delivered this baby once in a dream. There had been only one snag, she couldn’t find a clamp she needed, nor could any of the nurses. There were massive amounts of blood spurting from the baby getting on everyone and everything and then she woke up. Happily, there were no lost clamp issues in the real life delivery. However, I did have to pull the doctor’s ringing blackberry our of her back pocket, tell her daughter to get ready for hockey and let her know that her mom was busy and would call her back. Life goes on even as new life bursts on the scene.

The kids are waking up back in The Passage. Lila-Jeanne and Mé get a kiss as I float out the door, dazed and euphoric. Back home, Raymond and the children are waiting wide-eyed. Noah’s exuberant, impromptu dance while rapid fire chanting his new sister’s name is a welling up of primal joy, unbridled, uncut. Nellie is right there by his side spinning, weaving, smiling, laughing still a pixie babe herself. Raymond is beatific tout court.

I make the calls to immediate family with the good news and contact my office. Even though I didn’t do any of the hard work, it’s been a long night. Raymond lets me crash to get a little rest. I drift off with the new baby smell and thoughts of Lila-Jeanne in my mind.

Thank you Mélanie for being a loving maman and a fearless championne.

Yes, we have no baby

The due date is Thursday. It’s nearly Tuesday. Noah and Nellie were both early. Mélanie is waiting and wanting our Lila-Jeanne to join us on this side of the womb. Calls and emails are picking up from friends and family but it’s still round belly news on our end.

Mé is a champion. It’s been the toughest of three pregnancies – physically challenging through many months. We are both looking forward to this daughter defining her day and coming out for the celebration. It will be our last birth day. It will be a fine bonne fête as we hear the music of Lila’s first gasping cry and welcome her to the world snugged on maman’s breast.

Raymond is here giving us a hand with the kids. He arrived from Montreal last week. Nellie and Noah are ecstatic as grand-papa devotes plenty of time to play, laughter and fun activities. Nellie-Rose’s standard morning wake-up statement, ‘j’ai faim‘ (I’m hungry) has been tossed aside in favour of, ‘où est grand-papa?‘ (where is granpapa?).

The kids are ready for their new little sister. Visitors get the narrated tour of her corner real estate next to maman and papa’s bed where she’ll sleep in a playpen for a few months. More and more we are all talking about bébé Lila. We’re calling her to join us so we can cradle her in our arms, inhale that heavenly baby aroma and love her up.

Today I bought the cutest little pink hand knit bonnet for Lila. One of my work mates noticed it as she was passing by the store window where it was on display. She has a good eye. I got it back home for Mé to share in the cuteness. It’s a come on out gift. So please, come on out tonight. Wake us up as you swim to the light. Maman is ready for your heroic struggle to wash over her body in pounding waves of belly tightening pain. She will cry out as you force yourself through. We will cry and laugh as we see, smell and touch you. You will rock us sweet. You will smile our Noah and Nellie. You will dream our family and our whole family will dream you. Join the new moon, join us and take a deep breath of love life.

The Friend

DSC05456There are about 15 houses on each side of the street on our block. Just one side of the street, the one facing us, has a sidewalk. That side is the high activity zone during Hallowe’en beginning just after dusk. Noah and Nellie are dressed up and off we go into our first trick-or-treating adventure together. There we are – a polka dot dog, a two-legged giraffe and an uncostumed, roly-poly dad mixing it up with monsters, witches, robots, vampires and other scary apparitions.

Both kids are doing very well with the up and down stairs, making their way through crowds, saying their ‘trick-or-treats’ and ‘thank yous’. Of course they are both thrilled to be collecting all the goodies too – lots of chips and the odd chocolate bar. As treats are dropped in their bag at one door it is as if a magnetic attraction immediately begins pulling them to the next house. Perhaps this is an instinctual response hearkening back to our hunting and gathering days. Rows of houses on a grid system sure do make for easy pickings.

We see an old crone in her cabin on a front lawn with lights, smoke and spooky sound effects. It’s not enough to deter the quest for full bags of spectral loot. Both Nellie and Noah advance timorously, with caution and are rewarded with a double helping of treats from a smiling witch. We wrap up the block with nary a fall, and barely a fright. I manage to keep Noah in check and only half a house length in front of Nellie and I.

We turn a couple of corners and make our way onto a crescent for our next go at door knocking. The costumed kid population density seems to have doubled. They must be shipping them in from surrounding neighbourhoods. My People of the Bus buddies later report that they had visits from more than 160 kids.

We approach our first house in this new stretch of street and in an instant Hallowe’en is stopped in its tracks. There is a more powerful force at play. Noah is talking excitedly but I can’t make out what he is saying. Then I hear, “mon ami” – my friend. There is Ian in the flesh. I have heard so much about him but this is the first time we’ve met. Noah and Ian are dancing around, laughing and giggling on a stranger’s lawn. They are ecstatic at bumping into each other. It’s off to Ian’s house for a quick visit and introductions to other members of the family.

DSC05459Ian and his mom then join us as we head back to our house. There is time for a cup of tea for the adults and some playing for the kids. Ian and Noah are both beaming and Nellie is tagging along. Ian is the first friend that Noah has chosen. They are inseparable at pre-school gravitating to each other in the morning when they arrive. Since mid-September they have become best buddies.

Just before the Hallowe’en excursion Noah looked up at me out of the blue and said, “I love Ian.” And that says it all. Down the road I may forget the costumes my beauties wore on this particular Hallowe’en but I think I’ll always remember the joyous encounter. It will always be the Year of Ian and Noah, of budding friendship, heartfelt delight and small boys’ laughter filling the air on a starry night.

Front vaccinations“I recommend women in the latter stages of their pregnancy not wait even a week for unadjuvanted vaccine.” This is the quote from Nova Scotia’s Chief Public Health Officer that greeted me in the Halifax edition of Metro on Tuesday morning. There was a similar statement in the online version of The Chronicle Herald. Trouble is seems there are no plans to have vaccine available in any quantity in Halifax before November 2.

Mé had been doing some research from home trying to decide if she should get the vaccine or not. The real concern came down to whether or not to take a vaccine with adjuvant. The Globe and Mail published a helpful Q & A on H1N1 which touched on this and a number of other issues.

Mé is due for that big push within two, three weeks maximum. Really though, Lila could come out for her welcome party at any time. Both Noah and Nellie were a week early. After some helpful advice from the professionals at the 811 call centre, we decided not to wait any longer. We grabbed that brass ring and set our minds on getting our skin popped with the adjuvanted vaccine made available yesterday for the first time in Nova Scotia. We’re not fully clear what the risks are 811though we feel and hope they are minimal. We don’t want Mé and Lila to run the chance of contracting the swine flu in the absence of all protection.

Yesterday we drove the 45 kilometres or so to the East Hants Resource Centre in Elmsdale. We arrived shortly after 13h00 and there were approximately 300 in line along the sidewalk and one of the perimeter lines of the parking area. People had started lining up before 9h00. A security guard approached Mé and signalled her to follow him. He took us to the rear of the line inside the centre. There were now about 20 people ahead of us and an additional 30 to 40 people in the actual waiting room. The security guard had just started turning people away when we were parking our car. We got through because Mé is pregnant.

SMILEY 1The employees at the vaccination clinic were patient, caring and present. It was an incredible testament to their professionalism and compassion. The flow through of people did not stop all day long.

Our guys were tired to begin with as this was their usual nap time. It was a challenge to keep them entertained and amused for what turned out to be a two-hour wait. It was long for the adults in the room. It was an eternity for them.

The injections as a grand finale were not a show stopper for our little darlings who had no clue they were in for a needle until just moments before the dastardly act. The act itself was cause for piercing SMILEY 2wails as we wrapped both kids tight in our arms and legs forcibly immobilizing them. Thankfully the high-pitched sounds of fear and terror were rapidly replaced by a sobbing diminuendo. Recovery was quick and smiley faces reappeared as both Nellie and Noah resumed with play in the recovery room.

It was early to bed last night for everyone. We all had some tenderness and soreness in our arms. We’re happy that the decision is behind us and that we’re now vaccinated. Next I have to speak with my two older daughters to see what their plans are.

For more information on H1N1 visit the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Here in Nova Scotia you can check this provincial site for vaccination schedules throughout the province.

For a more global perspective on the pandemic consult this map by the World Health Organization.

Oops, nearly forgot – the young ones have to go back in one month for a second shot…..

PS – The swinish nature of the afternoon had everything to do with attempting to curb the enthusiasm of a just turned four-year-old and an about to be two-year-old in a confined space with no real play areas. The volunteers and staff were excellent.

Treats all round

DSC05406_2Tout le monde en parle is rounding out the weekend – always a list of interesting guests and often a provocative perspective on what is happening in politics, the arts, pop culture and sports. Mé is beside me thoughts roundly fixed on her belly. “I would have liked to have had the baby this weekend,” she says. It was hope beyond hope that it would happen while her maman was here for a five day visit. Lila is all over the place now. You can literally see her stretching. ‘She is way too comfortable in my body. She should be a little more shy,” says Mé.

Noah is in a nocturnal shenanigan vibe, bustin’ his own moves. He’s rearranging a gaggle of buddies on his bed. All the while it’s a constant stream of sound effects – talking, yawning, bouncing around, feet pattering on carpet. He’s playing fast and loose, any which way but sleep. Just before bed, he watches 15 minutes of So You Think You Can Dance. It’s the finals and after each spectacular move on the highlight reels he asks, “Does it hurt?”

Earlier in the evening, Noah is letting loose with some amazing moves of his own. He is a porter extraordinaire taking grand-maman’s suitcase all the way from the parking lot through the airport and to the check in counter. A combination pushing and pulling technique and hearty encouragement from Nicole, myself and passersby help him reach the final destination. All offers of help are met with a smiling yet firm, “I can do it.”

At one point in this epic journey Noah catches sight of a display of plush lobsters. He comes to an abrupt halt beside the display, drops the suitcase on the ground and picks up one of the lobsters for closer inspection. Almost instantaneously he drops it back in the bin, picks up the suitcase and looking at us both in turn says, “Not today, too busy, hard work.” We are just about ready to roll on the ground.
DSC05418_2DSC05423_2DSC05424
After hugs and kisses, grand-maman steps through the point of no return on her way to the departure level. Noah and I take the glass door elevator to the observation area on the third floor. In 15 minutes, we see seven take-offs and one landing. This doesn’t exactly respond to Noah’s almost constant, deep desire to take a plane to somewhere, anywhere but it does allow for some vicarious thrills.

It’s been a sans enfants weekend for us. This just adults time treat has only happened previously in Sorel when we’ve been able to nip away for a couple of days leaving the kids with Nicole and Raymond. Mé had the brilliant idea of having Nicole come down for a visit here so the two of us could foot loose and fancy free it in Halifax.

We bundle up a couple of bags and grab the 60 for Alderney Gate to catch a ferry across the harbour. It’s a few hours before we can check into our B&B on South Park. We make our way slowly from the waterfront and window shop our way up Spring Garden. By chance we spot a sign for Curry Village. They’ve moved. Mé’s had a craving for Indian and this is our restaurant of choice. We saunter up DSC05259Dresden Row and seat ourselves in their new digs. It’s Saturday lunch and we have the place practically to ourselves. As always we revel in the butter chicken and naan bread.

Dessert is only five or six doors away at Susie’s Shortbreads. This is a jewel of a sweet treat shop with cakes, cookies and their claim to fame killer cupcakes. I choose the peppermint patty and have no regrets. Mé selects something with a cream cheese topping that she’s going to eat later. We agree to come back the following day to bring home some goodies for the kids. The business is using social media successfully to reach out customers. We’ll certainly be repeats.

Next stop – Clay Café. This is a paint-your-own pottery studio for all ages. On our way we meet a couple of sweet older women on the very crowded bus. One was married to a Scot from Glasgow. The other – an 88-year-old from Wales – was a war bride. It was nice to small talk with them on their way to the mall.

The café is bright and full of activity. We’re here to create a couple of pieces for Nellie and Noah. I choose a plate for Noah and am feeling very deficient in the artistic muse department. Mé is making a DSC05235pretty cup for Nellie-Belle. Mé’s concept is for us to come here on a regular basis and do pieces for the kids which we’ll give to them when they grow up.

This is not the kind of thing that I would naturally gravitate toward. After a little while I’m feeling more comfortable though no more adept or proficient in applying the paint or coming up with design and decoration ideas. The experience grows on me and I see that Mé has a fine concept on the go here. It will be a great thing for us to do together. It’s a time to focus with no distractions and an opportunity to create a special gift over the years for our babies. When they are a little older, it will be a fun place to bring them too. Friday and Saturday nights there is live music. With our guys we could easily make that live music and dance.

We check in to the B&B, nap and head out on the town. Well we walk about three blocks in smittering, smattering rain. We’re a little chilled when we reach the sports bar. There’s an ultimate fighting spectacle being broadcast later in the evening but there are still a few seats left at tables. We make ourselves comfortable for three plus periods of Canadiens versus NY Rangers action. It’s a good Mtl vs NY Rangersgame. We’re particularly happy with the final score 5 to 4 in favour of Montreal. Bravo to Cammalleri for his hat trick.

By the end of the game the place is packed. People are asking for our second table and looking unhappy when we don’t hand it over. The server is with us though and that’s what counts. The ultimate fighting is in the warm up bouts. It’s a nasty looking sport – plenty of blood and pummelling right before our eyes. Both Mé and I are ready to leave. Back at the B&B we’re asleep almost straight away.

It”s like tropical rain throughout the night, a deluge of a downpour. It’s lessened somewhat by daybreak but the sky is still bleak and indistinct wrapping us all in a muffle of grey. We wake to the sounds of new streams gurgling and a gentler wind than the previous evening buffeting the windows. This is a chance to laze about, a delicious dalliance for us these years past.

By noon we check out and track back to Dresden Row. It’s time to get the kids’ cupcakes and other sugary delights. After a late breakfast, we hop the ferry to connect with the bus ride home. Nellie and Noah are thrilled to see us. It’s great to feel them close and warm in our arms. The reunion is every bit as wonderful as I anticipated.

A quick trip to the playground in the summer like weather, some take-out and then grand-maman is off the airport. Bye-bye grand-maman and thanks so much. We miss you.

Musical chairs

DSC02434Nellie-Rose is graduating. She’s in a transition mode right now, in the process of being liberated from her high chair. The potential messy quotient of the food along with her gigotage levels – wriggliness – are the key determinants as to whether or not it will be another meal strapped in behind a plastic tray.

Noah-David is attuned to this sea change. Nellie recently started asserting a desire to break out of the status quo by plomping herself down on one of the dining room table chairs. Noah was there immediately to assist and encourage her. Since then she’s upped the ante as she has taken to running away on occasion when papa or maman come to sit her in the high chair. She is also emphasizing her eagerness for a new relationship with dining room furniture by taking on some table setting. This is an activity she has learned through careful observation of big brother Noah’s expert and enthusiastic place setting technique.

Our ever helpful lad is taking matters in his own hands. “Papa, I have a job for you,” he exclaims as he prepares to give me instructions for my work detail. My mission is to take a children’s size table – DSC05040custom built by Mélanie’s paternal grand-papa – from the playroom downstairs to the dining room. This, Noah explains, is to be the new eating spot for our queen bee. It’s also a great place for plush buddies to have a spot of tea.

She likes it well enough although she can be quite fidgety. The other day she used it as her place to try out a new gesture, body language that borders the cute and melodramatic zones. Seated in her chair, she leaned forward both elbows firmly planted on the table top, her face cradled in the “V” of her hands, fingers covering her cheeks and her eyes looking skyward. I’m not sure what she was trying to express with this pose but it gave a glimpse of age beyond her years. Moments later she took two small plastic pig figurines à la Walt Disney, one in each palm, and did a reprise of the pose. There was only one possible outcome for us – smiles and laughter.

And so unfolds another chapter in the continuing meal time adventure sagas of Prince Ketchup et Princess J’ai Faim.