Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seaside Part 3 : Beach

It was finally time to make our way back to Owlet and Mrs. Owl.

It's a tricky thing toddlers, the Terrible Twos. That explosions of impotent rage are just under the surface most of the time, but it's something that I've come to empathize with. Imagine if you, after months and months of not really having an opinion about anything, suddenly, are YOU. You with all your preferences and ideas and wants. Now imagine that you need to communicate with an unreasonably large human who has complete and utter control over everything you do. Now imagine you can't quite speak English. Or can, perfectly, clearly, succinctly, but either the Ginormous Human has defective ears or you must, at all times, speak with your mouth filled with marbles.

I can see where the rage comes from. These episodes usually arise when the activity changes, especially if I'm taking Owl Jr. from an activity he likes, aimlessly following tire tracks, to one he might not like, joining up with the family.

As emotional and mercurial as kids are, I've found that what they want is to be reasoned with. They need to understand the logic, the why, the what, and they can be receptive to it. Or they can give you their reasoned rebuttal with screams of 'NO' that has the decibel level and chaotic clarity of a 80's hair band at the height of their powers.

So the reasoning begins, the simple, calm, quiet reasons. The trick is to not show fear, to not show the merest chink in your armour through which they can burst through and weather you down to the nub of a human you are after, say, a five hour drive running on nothing but diet red bull and a bag of corn nuts. It's a bit like you are the negotiator and what you're trying to get is a calm transition, and what they threaten, whether they know it or not, is an episode to rob from you the last precious bits of energy your frail, pathetic parenty body contains. The energy you were going to use to read a book when they were asleep, or something more luxurious, like brush your teeth, or breathe unassisted.

It's a relief that's quite hard to explain when Owl Jr. relents and gives me a pause, looks at me, thinks, then says, 'Otay'. It's quite possibly one of my mostest favoritist words at the moment. That and profligate. The other possible result the classic toddler meltdown. Nothing to do there but bunch up the shoulders, weather the storm, and try not to make eye contact with the appalled theatre-goers who just wanted to see "The Hangover 2" in peace (I kid, I'd never bring my kids to see that, explaining all the jokes, the references, the double entendres, the monkey? Come on).

In any case, it's a semi-meltdown. It's a crime against human rights and all that is just in the world that I should pull him away from following slight indentations in the sand just so he can go play with his sister in the sand. If she can't see the magic of actual rail road tracks in the beach that'll inevitably lead to Thomas, well, that's her loss, isn't it? Isn't it?!

We make it back to basecamp, with more, rather than less, tears cried. Instead of calmly making a castle or homestead or pyramid or whatever while Mrs. Owl relaxes, Owlet has taken on the job of MONSTER CRUSHER of things Mrs. Owl must make in the sand with increasing urgency. I never remember getting my parents to do that. More power to Owlet, I suppose.

And then, finally, it's time to brave the cool waters of the Oregon coast with the waves and the sand and the more waves.

We stand about where I think it'll be safe, outside the undertow zone, not high enough to sweep my children away from me as I hold onto their hands. In any activity that has even the slightest danger I don't think I'm alone in the dad-o-sphere in that I picture the worst case scenario, which, I should tell you, involves a tsunami, a pod of radioactive psychopathic killer whales and a nuclear submarine with a faulty firing safety protocol. So I don't so much hold their hands as clutch them tightly should I have to haul them both bodily out and run to the nearest abandoned Cold War era bombshelter with optional supply of killer whale repllent.

I look down at them, holding on for dear life as the waves sweep them up, they are hooting, howling, having a good time, and besides the odd smile coming to my face I realize that, at this moment, to them, I'm the strongest person ever. It's a little humbling, and a little disconcerting as I have the bones of a osteoporis addled hummingbird and the athleticism of someone who was personally offended by the TV character Urkel. But to be linked to all those kids who's parents haul them back onto their skiis, or lift them out of the pool, or do any number of hefting and lifting that's required of a parent of young kids.

We have a great time and of course Owl Jr. has to go back to the beach earlier than Owlet, as he's going to get chilled to the bone faster. Not that he'll admit it. The answer is always 'no' to the question of 'Are you cold?'. I have to watch for visible signs of mild hypothermia, and of course, haul him out of the water. That is my responsibility, after all, being the unreasonably large human, and Owl Jr. isn't communicating properly, mouth full of marbles notwithstanding.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Seaside Part 2 : Settling In

The rental house was a few blocks from the ocean, so not a beach house perse, but a close-enough-to-the-beach house. Which was fine by me. If you get one right on the beach (so I tell myself), you'd have to start driving cars with leases that could be confused with a mortgage,  have opinions about European soccer leagues, test cricket, various exchanges, and how often, or if you ever, press your chinos (you'd have to have chinos as well, come to think of it).

You'd be Upper Class, or Comfortable, as the Upper Class like to think of themselves. And I can't, I won't, have that. And not just because I can't afford it, not in the slightest. It's a principles thing.

The house itself was not the seedy, somewhat charming dive I expected it to be. It was rather done up and not altogether horrible. Which it had every right to be. As far as I'm concerned, these neglected, often empty houses have every expectation to be utterly run down and just this side of condemned.

After looking around the house we walked to the beach and enjoyed the sand and waves. The sand was soft and very, well, sandy. Not the mud and silt and sand affair you get in Vancouver, which, while biologically interesting and I'm sure greatly enhancing the first hunter gatherers diet in the region, makes for a pretty messy walk. But this Oregon sand that was powdery and soft and was sure to keep the kids entertained for hours while their weary parents sat back and got into some summer reading.

We have a sandbox at home, and they keep themselves remarkably content playing in the sand; but not in anyway that you might imagine. They don't make ordered castles or little pyramids or whatever. It's somewhat more chaotic, mostly they just sift it ,over and over like prospectors without the tattered overalls and mercury poisoning.

This is how we thought they'd take to the beach sand. However, Owl Jr., in seeing the beach, decided to go wandering, with me in tow, because at two and a bit, a kid just kinda wanders and isn't terribly worried about being lost. At least mine isn't. He's off and in his own personal quiet reverie about life and if his parents don't have the sharp-minded alertedness to keep a tab of him every 3 seconds, well, that's not exactly his problem. He doesn't make much noise, generally. Someday he'll make a great ninja or congressional archival librarian.

There was a lifeguard on duty, somewhere, anyways, the tracks of his truck or hilariously wide-stanced ATV traced across the beach. Owl Jr, in his infinite understanding how everything in the worlds relates to trains, decided these were train-tracks, and therefore must be followed. He had a grand old time following these tracks endlessly and I had a slightly less exciting time following him as he repeated "Thomas, thomas choo choo?".

It was relaxing, nevertheless, even if my job description for the day had been changed from 'stationary, reading concierge' to 'strolling butler'. The waves beckoned, those would offer some adventure, I'm sure. For another post.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Seaside Part 1



I find I'm trying to reconstruct my childhood in my vacations. Not purposely, but out of habit.

To that end i took the family to the Oregon coast, to experience the beach as I experienced it: chilly, windy, and with far too much Gore-Tex™. It's summer vacation as experienced by a son of immigrants. How were they to know a proper vacation was at a multi-billion dollar ride park festooned with anthopomorphic domestic animals, professionally-created childhood-focussed-grouped animated imagination avatars and other copyright protected IP? They wouldn't.

There is also the small problem of my parents being under the intermittent delusion that they enjoy the outdoors. (Memories of camping, such as it was, is dominated by twenty year old canvas tents that I now know smelled overwhelmingly of mildew with brief notes of a hardy, devastating killer mold; short-lived fires that were constructed with the quixotic idea that a roaring blaze could be had from warming rather large, damp logs with a handful of forest detritus; and by the recurring, never realized aspirations of going fly fishing at 4 AM.)

So, without knowing that 'going to the beach for our children to get partially blinded from short lived fires' was not a 'thing' to do, that's what we did as kids.

And so that's what I did with my family. Minus the fire bit.

The hardest part of the vacation was the drive, of course. With children, it seems, it's always the bit where they have to stay very still while confined with nylon straps and being told to 'look out the window'. Yes, we did have a device for playing the Dora's and Thomas the Tank Engine, but we wanted to wait until we really needed it, the Death Blossom of road-trip childcare if you will. Because if you play that card too early, and they get sick of it, well, then you're exhausted and they're tired and bored and you have absolutely no psychological backstop to stop you from offing yourself with an imaginative use of the automatic windows, a trick shoulder belt, and the judicious use of the e-brake.

If a kid is really young they don't actually care, and are happy to sleep and snack and look at the blurry things out the window while being flabberghasted and amazed by the most mundane things. Like trains, boats, an El Camino that has made the disastrous conversion to 'camper'. That's Owl Jr.

If a kid is really old, they, I'd assume, find a way to amuse themselves. With the bluetooth and the blackberries and the text-mess--why no I do not have a smart phone myself, why do you ask?

If a kid is in the Magic Zone of Maximal Annoyance (Owlet), then you're both in for a treat. They are like elves, these little guys, their attention has the ferocity and lifespan of a mongoose cross-bred with a mayfly. We brought colouring books and toys and games and oh look congratulations, you've just amused her for 27 minutes. 7.5 hours to go there, bucko.

And, thinking about it, trying to keep my blood pressure down as she complains that 'it's so tiring' even though I'm the one who had been driving for three hours, I can see where she's coming from. She has no reference for how much longer it'll be, or how to keep track of the progress, of having any indication that we won't, in fact, end up spending the rest of our days in that car driving steadily south on the I-5. I came to this realization as I tried to calculate when we'd get to the rental house given our current speed with rest stops.
But we all mustered through. We did this trick of leaving really early so the kids would sleep in the car for a few hours. And much to everyone's surprise, it mostly worked.

This karmic fluke would be paid back in full, later.