Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Not That Impressive

It doesn't matter what sort of restaurant you go to: the chic one with glass everywhere and the vague impression that the interior designer might have had a short but meaningful fling with slight, well-manicured Japanese man; those BBQ places that aren't really so much BBQ as they are the end product of some highly efficient de-graded beef and chemical food delivery process that would put Mussolini's railway to shame; a small cafe at some long abandoned highway town where the main ingredient in all the food, even the fruit bowl (especially the fruit bowl) is pork fat; one of those chipper new 'hip' restaurants that's just a front for one of those older restaurant chains that you could have sworn had given up the ghost to marching progress and the vagaries of the every changing and fickle North American palate; Dennys.

It really doesn't matter.

There's always a cadre of servers who have, through choice or fate, made that job their life. For good. And for some reason it's the majority opinion of them that taking the order by memory is the bestest, most impressive way to get a big fat tip.

It's not.

It's the best fastest way to get me all anxiety laden, and ineveitably, smirky and self-righteous when you bring me the Moons Over My Hammy rather than the small Coke and apple pie I ordered. This might just be a confirmation bias, it may be that all these servers who shirk from a pen and paper like economists from basic ecological theory, are, in fact, better. But my anxiety of you messing up my order is, objectively, ruining my experience.

And I feel bad for them of course. Them and their mortification for having messed up my simple order of  the 'the bacon burger,that's it, just the bacon burger, fries', as if this thing doesn't happen every goddamn day. And how could it not? It's precisely because my orders are so boring, and of course, I naturally exude boring myself, that my order would be as memorable as a Democrat's stump speech.

And I'm sorry for that.

But please. For the love of my very severe craving for a BLT and not, say, a Cobb salad, please write down my damn order.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Herculean Achievements And Other Small Miracles Part II

I'm not sure where the obsession with trains comes from, but it seems to be universal for kids of a certain age. Thus we have Thomas The Train Engine and Chugginton and those wooden train tracks sold by everyone from Ikea to Toys R Us. Then there are the other incarnations, train rides in shopping centres on small electric carts kitted out to look like 19th-century steam engines, outdoor gasoline-powered mini-trains manned by former engineers and those who have taken their hobby far too seriously.

You don't notice it until you have a little boy or girl who goes absolutely ballistic at the first sign of anything that goes on a track. It's the Blue Car Syndrome with multi-ton uni-directional transport vehicles. Owlet is fairly far past it, but Owl Jr. is deep in the throes of this near pathological mental disability. On the merest hint of one, he drops whatever he was doing (invariably, playing with a small train) and shouts out "CHOO CHOO!", then looks around to see if, perhaps, one has snuck up behind him, or behind me. (A meerkat like response that is much like Owlet, actually, when her favourite shows goes on, as she bellows (yes, bellows) "MOMMA!! TOOPY AND BINOO IS ONN!!!").

So for the second day of questionable childcare by their father, the kids are taken to an outdoor train somewhere deeper in the wilds of the suburbs, bordering on the exoburbs. Somehow, like all jobs that one does day in and day out, it must become somewhat commonplace, watching the jittering uncontainable excitement of little ones as they come face to face with their obsession; the tired, vaguely triumphant face on the caregivers as they set their kids down in the tiny cars for a full five minutes of peace.

It then comes to my attention, as the train is pulling from the station, that the ride is being set up for a night-time Halloween mode. All innocuous children's outdoor activities take on a demonic alter-ego during Halloween. Amusement parks, train rides, petting zoos, you name it, if it's outside, there's going to be a Halloween version that would make small children and lesser men, like myself, suddenly become aware of how tenuous bladder control really is.

This isn't 'billowing sheets and funny jack-o-lanterns', this is 'something scary enough to chip through teenager's jaded skepticism', the same teens who watch horror movies that make the Dresden Fire Bombing look like a mild city-wide heat-wave.

I'm told that nothing is really set up,that it'll be fine for the six or so kids on the train, all under the age of 5. Which, to some extent, it is. But there were a few tunnels a little bit too well prepared for the night's event. Hideous monsters, bloodthirsty monsters glare out, although the lights were dimmed (which made it somewhat worse, actually). It's then that the powers of suggestion, all the powers I could muster, came into play.

Owlet : "The tunnel, it's SCARY!?"
Me : "Nonono, it's not *shudder* scary. Nono. It's fine"

Repeat that conversation about thirty times over five minutes.

Much later, I'm sure Mrs. Owl will be regaled by Owlet's disturbingly accurate memory, "Dadda! Remember when we went on that SCAAARY train!?". After which she will reduce me to ashes with a withering glare.

Owl Jr., of course, simply loved it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Herculean Achievements And Other Small Miracles Part I

So, I knew it was coming. The Payback. After carousing in NYC with my fellow nerds for a few days, it was only fair that Mrs. Owl get a chance away from the kids, in Vegas. Yes, Vegas. It's lucky for me that both of us have the gambling habits of a Siberian ermine in hibernation, that is, none at all. Or it's lucky that she's hid her gambling addiction and the second mortgage we are now carrying. Either way, you know, I'm a happy camper.

She went down with some of her fellow mommy friends and they had a grand old time in heat that made NYC seem like a spacious Frigidaire. Killing heat. The kind of heat that's too hot for sand. But hey, who am I to judge if her idea of a good time is to gawp at the living proof, the soaring edifices proclaiming that often-repeated but rarely heeded motto "The House Always Wins"?

By all accounts she had a good time and whatnot and I haven't noticed any undue garnishing of my wages, so it was a success.

But enough about her. This is about me! Me taking care of a 1.5 year old and a 4 year old and a small, furry dog given to frequent, enviable naps.

On Saturday I take them to a free live kids performance of a cartoon. Yeah. I know. They dress up two poor schlubs in gigantic costumes of two popular cartoon characters. The schlubs thenv gesture as the pre-recorded audio shouts out their lines.

That's not where the suffering happens though. No, the suffering happens when you arrive an hour early for a 'free fun playtime' to see only a teeming mass of stoic parents and already squirming kids waiting as patiently as they can for an animated character to come to life on a stage that bears a striking resemblance to the loading pallets you usually see out back. Toddlers and babies waiting are like live rounds in a camp fire. It's a peace with the understanding that Things Aren't Going To Be Altogether Fun In A Little while. Unless the idea of unpredictable munitions excites you.

So we wait. I have Owlet on one knee, Owl Jr. on the other, and Molly in a doggie bag by my side, with a smaller bag on whatever side of me I have left to carry diapers, wet wipes, snacks and water. Closest parent-child combo? About 2 inches. On every side. It was brick wall and a bit of gothic architecture away from being the Cask of Amontillado.

Free kids shows are really something that parents should avoid if at all possible. The 10 dollars or whatever you woulda paid is well worth the peace of mind. What peace of mind you ask? Well, waiting an HOUR with small children, for one. Trying ones best to be polite yet not giving a single goddamn millimeter to any blasted parent and their snivelling toddler if they think they can hem in on your territory, for another.


You see? It doesn't bring the best out in parents. Well, it brings the best out in parents, in that all parents want to give their children the bestest, mostest, everythingest they want. At least til a certain age. I call this the Years When Civility Goes By The Wayside, or the Mad Maxx Years. For some parents, it's a very long time. Up until, say, 30. For others, it's until they're kids are in elementary. I have no doubt this dark and uncouth time will take the better part of my adult life.

It's unnerving and humiliating to find yourself in a tooth and nail fight, albeit surreptiously, albeit covertly with the grand airs of civility. All that high-minded idealistic youth is gone when you're defending your 2 square feet of rubber mat hoping against hope that one kid doesn't meltdown, the other kid doesn't evacuate his bowels, and your dog doesn't start whining because What THE HELL Are All These Kids Doign So Close To ME?!

We survive, there are minor meltdowns, small compromises, but Owlet gets to see the characters gesture about and I try not to imagine what impressive resumes those poor folks in the suits had to build to get there (3 years modern dance, 5 years ballet, 2 years tap, BA teaching, Primary School, CPR 1 and 2).

When we pile back into the car, my shirt is nearly soaked in sweat. The cold sweat of stress, the real sweat of carrying a 1.5 year old and a small dog and pack, the bonus sweat of being a desk jockey who's idea of exercise is moving the mouse enough so the screen saver doesn't engage.

Oh yes, the Payback has just begun.