Healthy 10th Birthday, Choo Choo!

A decade ago right now, Mommy and I were preparing to go to Foothills Medical Centre. There, Mommy would have a caesarian section and you would be pulled forth into this world — not of woman borne! — with your arm draped around your neck like a feather boa, safe and sound.

Well, mostly. That whole anti-K thing and all, as we remind you of every now and then. Which is almost a bizarre parallel to today: almost immediately after you were born, the doctors wanted to whisk you away to the NICU to ensure that the anti-K situation wasn’t affecting your health. You were isolated.

Ten years later, you’re isolated again. This time, none of our doing (biological or otherwise), but because of COVID-19. You’re spending your birthday apart from nearly everyone but your family.

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10 Years in Canada

I was born in what was once the small town of Oakville, west of Toronto. I lived there until I was 18, when I went to university, and split my time between Waterloo, Oakville, Ottawa, and Toronto, until January 1998, when I moved away, apparently forever.

I moved to Vancouver, where I spent two bipolar years of amazing experiences and painful relationships. I came to Calgary in March 2000, got married, had a kid. In 2008, my family made the epic decision to move to a completely different part of the world for nearly 18 months of … well, painful experiences and amazing relationships.

Ten years to the minute of this post, we came home.

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A farewell to neighbours

We moved into our current home in March 2007, a few months before Monkey was born. We were not newlyweds anymore, we were bracing for a family. The home we had lived in was nice, and ideal for a couple. For a pregnant woman, the home was turning into a challenge; it would be hell with a child.
When we arrived, the building was bare, but it housed a history that we would slowly learn over the years to come, from those who lived around us. We would contribute to that, as well, as we brought our own lives to bear on the structure. This history was taught to us largely by our neighbour, Jo-Ann, who had been next door the large majority of her life. This week, she turned the keys over to a new family.
So let me tell you a few things about our friend.
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20 years from Ontario

Two decades ago today, I did something immensely stupid: I left home. Literally and figuratively. Twenty years ago, I was still sleeping in my room on Gatestone Avenue in Oakville. While I had lived on my own at university, and while I was on my co-op work terms in Ottawa, staying at home was … comfortable. And as my parents didn’t object, it seemed like a good idea. Literally leaving home wasn’t the problem — I’d already done it a dozen times.
Figuratively leaving home — notably the familiarity of the Greater Toronto area, but Ontario in general — was another matter. I’d not really lived abroad, where going to my parents’ house was something I did in an afternoon. I decided to throw myself into the world without any plan whatsoever.
Twenty years on, it was the smartest move I ever made.
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The kids' first New Years Eve

Okay, to be fair, Monkey is now 10, and Choo Choo is rapidly approaching 8. They’ve seen “new years eve” a few times, but they’ve been more the family-friendly type. Staying up to midnight is the new thing. The only time they’ve ever been up past midnight is because of travel, and that’s always been a bit of a struggle.
Last night, for the first time ever, they watched a clock tick from 23:59 of one year to 00:00 of another. Honestly, they fared better than I did.
And that, my friends, is not a good sign.
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Disney World 2016: 'Twas the day before Christmas

The Art of Animation Resort had left information on our door regarding our DME pickup. We had until 1:30pm to relax, do any final shopping, and pack.
For our final breakfast, we went to Pop Century, to experience their morning fare. I can’t say that the quality was markedly better, but Alex got her gluten-free waffles, and we had something different for a change. So it was far from terrible.
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Disney World 2016: Magic Kingdom

This was the day I’d been waiting for since June. I have nothing against Epcot or Animal Kingdom, and I very much love the Kennedy Space Center. But when it comes to magic, the closest I’ll ever get to witnessing real magic, it’s the looks on children’s faces when they see something wonderful. I had great memories of the Magic Kingdom from when I was a kid, and I wanted to see what it looked like through my own kids’ eyes.
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Disney World 2016: Animal Kingdom

I moved the family as quickly as I had the day before. My biggest need that morning wasn’t to get to Animal Kingdom, it was to return the car before we got dinged another USD$133. I’d gotten over the fact that we’d ended up with an inappropriately large and expensive car, I just didn’t want to be reminded of it again.
We charged through breakfast, Alex and I started to really dislike the constant pattern of food without sufficient variation. Finishing first, I double-backed for the car, and brought it closer to Animation Hall for pickup. However, either due to miscommunication or misunderstanding, my family went left instead of right, and took longer to get out than I’d planned. I ended up literally chasing them around the building, only to find them at the car, wondering where I was.
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Disney World 2016: Kennedy Space Center

We were up early, hitting the front of the hotel for 8:20, to catch our shuttle bus to the Alamo Rental location just inside the Magic Kingdom‘s outer gates. We were renting a car for exploring!
I had originally arranged for a small car the day before, but we’d switched around the days (because we could) to make it a bit easier. I knew the day was going to involve a fair bit of driving for me and the girls, so I figured the day wouldn’t matter. We were going to the coast: I wanted to see the Kennedy Space Center, and I promised the girls we’d go to the beach afterwards.
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Disney World 2016: Resting at the resort

It’s genuinely amazing what a single night of sleep can do for a person. I woke up feeling human. And apologetic about my behaviour the night before. And dying for coffee. Which, fortunately, the Landscape of Flavors has in spades.
Originally, we had planned to go to the Kennedy Space Center. However, we were all still quite tired from our experience the day before, so we opted to take another pool day, and relax. It was definitely the right decision to make.
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Disney World 2016: Epcot

Our first FastPass was booked for 9:40am, so we had a need to usher ourselves along that morning. Up, shower, dress, eat, and on the bus for 9am. It was a bit hurried, but nothing more dramatic than trying to get the kids up for school.
Arriving at Epcot was unique, in that the first thing we could readily see was Spaceship Earth (colloquially known as “the golf ball”) as we drove around Epcot’s massive parking lot to the bus drop-off. The bus ride was punctuated by a conversation with a rather bright girl from Georgia who seemed very interested in the girls’ first trip to a Disney park.
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Disney World 2016: Disney Springs

Walt Disney World covers an area of 110 sq km, encompassing the four theme parks, two water parks, 27 themed resorts, and their shopping/entertainment district, called Disney Springs  (formerly Downtown Disney, among a few other iterations). It’s an experience freebie, in that it doesn’t ding you the $100+/person entry.
Getting there — well, anyway, really — would be a bit of a challenge for anyone without a car. Even with the distances between entrances (we had a minimum 30 minute walk to the nearest park), there was also the reality of walking on freeways (and very few roads in the area had sidewalks), not to mention the wildlife: signs everywhere warned of snakes and alligators. Walt Disney World is built on a swamp, and many watery channels remain.
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Disney World 2016: Arrival at Walt Disney World

We arrived in Orlando at about 1:00am. Amazingly, the girls were still awake (given, it was only 11pm Calgary time). The airport was nearly empty. And yet, Choo Choo sprinted ahead to see a giant (fake) Christmas tree, and neither complained about the extra walking to retrieve our bag. All I wanted at that point was a bed, but they needed tranquilizer darts.
Our first exposure to Disney came on Level one of “Side B” (Orlando has strange names for their terminal building arrangement), where we arrived for our Disney Magical Express. I was half-expecting it to be closed. But there was a nice gentleman, who smiled and said “Good morning!” as if it were breakfast time, but with enough levity to suggest his apology for the late hour. We were directed to Line 7 (devoid of anyone), and led to a large coach bus. There was no extra cost, no hassle: it was simple. This was a pattern that was about to be repeated frequently.
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Disney World 2016: The kids find out

The biggest problem with Christmas around our household is Alex’s work schedule. Being an X-Ray Tech at Rockyview means that she has to work any conceivable day of the year, Christmas Day included. Add to that a near-impossibility for her to get vacation at peak times (notably summer), and we have to wait for when Alex gets vacation.
In May 2016, Alex declared that we “were going somewhere for Christmas”. Originally, that was meant to be Hawaii, which I was all for. However, when we looked into it more, the costs were rapidly approaching “prohibitive”. I think I even joked that “Disney would be cheaper”.
My jokes have a tendency to spur thought on alternatives…
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A new year, a new car

Today, Alex and I picked up our new car. And it’s new, not a previously-enjoyed vehicle. It’s a 2016 Honda CR-V. Yes, it’s an SUV, the very thing I often rail against. It’s not even our first. (More on both of those in a bit.) It was not a decision taken lightly, I assure you.
It’s a bit of a weird feeling having such an expensive new toy, even though it is still (kind of) the Christmas season. It’s also weird trying to talk myself out of going for drives, as all I really want to do is get in the car and drive around. Given that I spend most of my travel time in busses and trains, feeling the urge to drive is definitely a change for me.
It’s a good change. And a bit overdue.
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Things I have missed about summer in Ontario

I’m currently in Ontario, taking the opportunity to visit with my family. It’s always a strange feeling to come back here: it’s where I was born and grew up, but I’ve been gone for over 15 years. A lot has changed. You really can’t go home again.
That’s not to say that I entirely like or dislike the way things currently are. I’m a bit indifferent, I guess. This is now some place for me to go to, to visit, but not where I feel particularly rooted. That’s what change does to you, I suppose.
That said, there are some things that I do miss.

New year, renewed hope

I blinked, and 2013 kind of vanished on me. It’s a blur, a seemingly endless stream of activity that rarely relented long enough for me to appreciate any of it. I have pictures to prove it, sure, but I have to struggle sometimes to remember the date, or what else might have happened.
I’m fairly certain this isn’t (solely) a result of age. It’s parenthood. It’s a rigorous schedule that keeps the family machine moving at quite a pace. Between work schedules (which alternate such that Alex and I resemble “ships passing in the night”), school schedules, various after school activities, and the family activities, there’s very little time for much else.
Like, say, writing a blog.
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New Year's (Eve) Tea

By tradition, our family does afternoon (or high) tea on 1 January, and thus far it has always been at a Fairmont hotel (which, frankly, does excellent afternoon tea). This year, almost exactly one year ago today, we had our tea as planned. But last week, we came to the realization that we could not effectively hold to our traditional date, as Alex has an evening shift, and getting back from Banff in time was nigh-impossible without rushing.
Local? The Palliser doesn’t start until 2pm, which makes rushing just as much a problem. And no-one else in Calgary seems to be open on New Years Day. For afternoon tea, that is.
And it wasn’t for a lack of looking. I even went to my internet compatriots for suggestions. I got the name of nearly every tea house in Calgary, but no others that served afternoon tea. It seems harder than it should be…
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Happy 3rd birthday, Choo Choo!

It’s one of those funny things you sometimes run into as a parent. In one moment, you’re nearly panicking at the seemingly rapid passage of time, that your tiny infant is suddenly racing around the house, reading books far too advanced for her age, and threatening to debate logical positivism. Then you look down and see that one child is adorably cute and had been so for, also seemingly long, forever.
Today, dear Choo Choo, you turned 3. And while the world seems to be spinning around me beyond my control, you sit there at the centre of the storm, giggling and playing and singing songs and making faces and smiling, smiling, smiling. Oh, how I cannot believe how much happier my life is when I get a big hug from you.
Like this morning, when you got up…
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2012, A Year in Review

For me, 2012 was a bad year. Between a host of medical issues (brutal chest cough that led to pulled muscles, to appendicitis, to strep throat, a couple nasty colds-cum-killer flus, and a minor outpatient surgery), ridiculous amounts of stress, the ever-present struggle of being a parent to young children, a general malaise, and an unfulfilled burning need to travel, it’s truly a wonder I got out of bed in the morning.
So it wasn’t with any reservation that 2012 walked out of my life on Monday night, yet it still managed to leave me rather depressed. Sadly, 2013 woke me up looking already a lot like 2012, so I’m not sure if I’m able to look at this new year with much hope yet. Instead, I suppose I shall have to try harder to make things work more my way.
This not to say that I “didn’t like” 2012. It’s hard not to like an entire year in one’s life, especially one that brings so many new things to learn and experience. I just wish it hadn’t been so darned painful…
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New Year's Tea, 2013

Gingerbread Banff SpringsPhoto by Geoff S.
Every year, so far able to be said to be “like clockwork”, we have Afternoon Tea on New Year’s Day. So far, every time has been at a Fairmont hotel (three times at the Banff Springs, once at the Hotel Vancouver), and I don’t suppose that tradition is likely to change any time soon. Though we’re definitely needing to branch out to other Fairmonts, and my sights are definitely set on the Empress in Victoria.
This year’s event was quieter, being just the four of us. Whereas last year we had more guests than the combined attendance of all previous NYTs, we intentionally kept it light and simple.
In fact, this year’s annual Tea almost didn’t happen.
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Christmas Blitzkrieg

When I have those moments when I think I’ve gotten too old, and I think I’m starting to feel like my age, I’m thankful for sudden sustained bursts of activity that remind me that, really, I just lead a much duller life than I used to, and my exhaustion is usually due to lack of sleep than from trying to do too much.
Heck, it even makes me feel a bit young! Ish. Sort of.
Except for the prolonged yawning, anyway.
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Happy 5th Birthday, Monkey

Today was a big day, Monkey. A milestone — yet another of many to come. Another year has passed, but it’s an important one. You’re past infant, toddler, and now preschooler. You’re a real kid, now. You’re going to school — real school.
You’re not my “little” girl anymore. You’re a big girl now, really. (You’ll always be little, by the way. Just accept it and let’s move on, shall we?) I still find it hard to see you growing up, almost like you’re slowly getting away from me with every day.
I can’t believe you’re 5 already, Monkey.
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A walk in the (amusement) park

Kids, we missed the Calgary Stampede this year. That was partly intentional, to be honest. Yes, it was the 100th anniversary, and Choo Choo was old enough to actually do some of the things there, but … well, it was kind of crazy this year, and maybe the 101th anniversary won’t be quite so crazy. And you’ll be older, and slightly more … how can I put this? … controllable.
That said, you both like rides, Monkey especially. (We found that out last year.) So denying you two a trip to an amusement park, especially during what’s turning out to be Calgary’s best summer in a long time, is just plain criminal. So with Mommy’s acquired coupons, we packed you up, dragged out Grandpa, and all headed to Calaway Park.
In a word? “WHEEEEEEEE!”
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Vacation 2012, Day 2.5

Well, kids, this vacation is certainly having some ups and downs. I’m taking that as a good thing, by the way, since without variation things can get a little dry. That’s also a joke, incidentally — “dry” isn’t a concern around here. It’s rained every day so far (we have thunderstorms as I’m writing this), and not far away, flooding is so bad that highways are being washed out.
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Vacation 2012, Day 1

Hey kids,
You’re both sleeping right now. Soundly so. You’ve both had a big, exciting day, and I’m frankly amazed you made it as long as you did. You normally don’t pack this much into a few days, let alone a few hours.
We’ll see how you do for the next few days…
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An apology to my kids

Dear Monkey and Choo Choo,
Yesterday, I worked from home. This is not the first time I’ve done so. The reasons for working from home are also largely irrelevant. The point is that I was there, even though I really wasn’t. I was working, which means my mind is elsewhere.
For you, I was home. This “working” thing doesn’t make any sense to you, nor should it. I was at home; that’s all that matters to you. So you did what you should be doing when I’m at home:

Daddy, I[‘m’] hungry.
Daddy, [can you] read [this] story [to me]?
Daddy, can you take me around the block on my bike?
Daddy, come play!

Instead of “yes”, which is what you expected, you heard me say “no”, and far too often, angrily. And for that, I apologise. You shouldn’t have had to deal with me like that. I made you cry a couple of times, Choo Choo, for you understand the least. You know when I leave in the morning, I’m going to “work”. Even though I know you don’t really know what “work” means, you know I’m not at home. Lately, this elicits:

I[‘ll] miss you.

See daddy’s heart. See daddy’s heart shatter into a million pieces. See daddy cry as he watches his kids’ lives slip from his fingers.
So I’m going to make a deal with you. I know you’ll accept, so this is more kicking myself in the butt to make sure I do it. I will never work from home again. That means that if I am at home, and you’re awake, I’m yours. If it’s a “normal” work day, I’ll shift my hours to a time when you’re asleep. If I’m at home, we do what you want to do. We play, we read, we go for walks.
Because I can’t bear to say “no” anymore to the things that matter to you.

On 10 years of missing my dad

Dear Dad,
It’s been 10 years since you passed. Actually, a little over ten years. The anniversary was on the 7th, and I’d be lying if I said I’d thought about you that day. I honestly don’t remember if I did, but I’d like to think that if I had, I’d have marked the occassion with a little more attention than this.
That’s not to say I don’t think of you. There’s never a week that passes by, and usually far more frequent, that I think of you, the things you taught me, and I reflect on the struggles you had as a father, as a provider, as a mentor, and as a man. As a boy, I couldn’t help but look up to you and wonder what it was that made you tick, and how much of you would affect me as a grown-up.
Well, I’m that grown-up now. I’m about the age you were when I started wondering what I would be like. And I wonder: would you approve? What would you think of me as a father? As a provider? As a mentor to my kids? As a man?
It’s these moments when I wonder that I feel a profound sadness, because I’ll never know. I’ll never get the chance to ask you. I never really got a chance to say “thanks”. No, I ain’t perfect — far from it. But I’ve found people who accept me for who I am, and my family seems to love me despite my flaws. But maybe that’s good enough?
I hope you don’t mind if I’ve started making you sound a little more legendary with my kids. They’ll never know the real you, so I figure there’s no reason they shouldn’t hear about “Granddad”. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind the embellishment at all. Allen — Alex’s dad — could never fill the hole that I always feel present, but he certainly makes up for the lack of a second grandfather in their lives.
I just wanted you to know that you’re still in my mind, and in my heart.

Happy 2nd birthday, Choo Choo!

Happy 2nd birthday, my dear Choo Choo!
It’s almost impossible to believe you been with us only two years, you shining little light. Two short — and somehow, impossibly long — years ago, you found yourself suddenly freezing, weighed, and then set upon by a dozen doctors and nurses who were all convinced you were not exactly in the best of health. To see you running around today, inhaling chocolate cupcakes like they were air … well, if anything, I’d suspect those doctors would feel proud you’ve turned out so well.
Goodness knows I am, kiddo.
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