Hah!

Lawn Mower

Lawn Mower (Photo credit: Beedle Um Bum)

If you want some kind of specific information from W you will have to ask your question probably two or three times before he tells you what you want to know. And even then you might find that asking him something completely different is what works to finally get the answer you were looking for in the first place. People don’t believe me when I tell them this. But here’s a typical example.When are you leaving for Ontario?

There’s a lot of stuff I have to take care of there. I could be gone for two or three weeks. Hard to say.

But what day exactly are you leaving?

I’ll probably take a couple of days to drive down. No point in trying to do it all in one day. Sixteen hours is too much without a break.

Okay but what day of the week will you be taking off exactly?

Yeah, it’s good that I can take off whenever I want. I’m really lucky to have a job where they are okay with me taking off the time when I ask for it. They’ve been really good about that.

WHERE DID YOU PUT THE GAS CAN FOR THE LAWN MOWER???

I’ll be leaving first thing Monday morning.

(Don’t worry, I already knew the gas cans location, so I did not have to inquire about the price of turnips in Japan to find that out.)

I’ve learned over the years that it’s more fun and less frustrating to just ask random questions for no particular reason and see what pops up out of his strangely confused male brain.

I’d love it if you could sit down with him now and ask him something simple like ‘what did you eat for breakfast.’ I guarantee you will not find out for at least half an hour and that I’ll get to say HAH! I told you so! when you finally do, and that he will not have a clue in hell what is so damn funny.

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Cambridge Bay 2

July 18

Cambridge Bay II

Life went on at about the same pace for the next few months.  Alternately hectic and lazy, mostly depending on the kids and how they were and what they needed.  W. continued to go on trips and never be around.  I depended on myself and my friends to look after my babies and keep myself sane.  My mom and dad decided to make plans for a trip all the way to Cambridge Bay from Ontario to visit us for a week in June.  At least I had that to plan for and look forward to.  I went to the drop-in for moms and tots, talked on the phone, visited, took the baby for his check ups, washed, cleaned, wiped runny noses.  I lived through teething and toilet training and roseola infantum.  I often felt overwhelmed dealing with all these things mostly on my own, with my mom so far away and trying to tell W. about it by phone.  I still had a few bouts of feeling not in control and incredibly sad, but I always made myself snap out of it.  I had two beautiful children who needed a mother who wasn’t depressed and crazy.

When the snow finally melted we were stranded once again, not being able to use the snowmobile.  Someone gave me an old stroller and I was so grateful I nearly cried.  I used it to pack the kids into and walk to the Bay for groceries.  I nursed D. through colds and sore throats, and sat up all night with K. after his first immunization needle.  W. went off to some course in Lethbridge for 2 weeks and I impressed myself no end with how well I could cope on my own.  Finally it was June and he arrived home on the same day as my parents flew in, so we all were at the airport to meet them.  I was insanely happy to see them.  They spent a lot of time with their grandchildren, and we talked and talked and talked.  The visit was over much too fast.  The day after they left W. started talking again about taking some 2 or 3 day trips and maybe going away for a month in the summer when the ice went out.   He told me he really didn’t appreciate me giving him static about leaving.  I wanted to strangle him.  I told him he might as well just leave and never come back because I was not EVER going to get used to this.  I told him he would not last two days if the roles were reversed.  That prompted him once again to try to spend more time with D. and K. but he always got frustrated and would invariably think of other things he had to do.

That summer we had some strange visitors – a couple of photographers from England and some kind of duck egg collector from Scotland.  W. invited them to stay with us.  He was also always inviting people over for meals and evenings whenever he was home.  Those were really the only times I ever learned about anything he was doing, when he talked to other people and I got to listen in.  We really didn’t tell each other much of anything anymore.  Then he went off doing some flying musk ox surveys or something wildlife related like that.  After that he flew off to Yellowknife to either attend meetings or have a vasectomy.  Maybe it was both, I don’t remember.  It’s all a blur.  Because around that time a letter came in the mail from some girl in Lethbridge.  It was addressed to W., although there was no box number, and there was her name and return address in the corner.  I had no idea who she was, but just the envelope made me sick.  So I opened it and read what she had to say.  She called him some silly nickname, talked about her family and her tan, and how everyone said hi.  Then she blathered on about hickies and presents and her sex life.  It was truly bizarre.   And it made me temporarily lose my mind.

I tried to reach W. in Yellowknife about six times, and finally left a message for him to call home.  Then I packed my suitcase with everything I could cram into it, and searched the house for my credit cards and my cheque book so that I could make flight reservations back to Ontario for myself and my kids.  I honestly could not find them anywhere, although I turned the whole house upside down and finally in frustration I called Trudy and told her the whole sordid story.  She sat down and had three drinks in a row listening to my tale of woe.  How funny was that.  I’m the one who needed a drink.  Then she came and picked us up and we went to the library.  She kept telling me to calm down and think this through and not do anything rash.  I was at the fucking library – how rash was that?  We laughed until we cried.  She said she had a hard time believing that W. would do something like that – he loved me and his kids and just didn’t seem like the type.  Deep down I thought she was right, but really, what did I know anymore?  When I got home I resumed my search for my wallet, but it was half-hearted at best.  Finally W. called, a bit frantic sounding, sure that something had happened to one of us.  I assured him that we were all just perfectly fine, as usual, no thanks to him, and could he please tell me all about his escapades in Lethbridge?

I have to give him credit if he really was guilty of anything for being completely believable in his bafflement and anxiety.  I had never known him to lie about anything before.  In fact he has always been quite brutally honest even when the truth could use some softening.   He was desperate to come up with some kind of explanation for this girl he had never heard of sending him a letter.  There were some guys from the Yukon who did a lot of bar hopping and joked that when you picked up chicks you should use somebody else’s name.  Maybe somebody used his name.   He begged me to not do anything crazy and to wait for him to get home.  Well.  Wasn’t that just becoming the story of my life.  What choice did I have, really?  When I hung up the phone I read the letter again, looking for any little clue or reference to anything that could be linked to W., but it was just such generic stupid little-girl babble that I gave up.  W. came home bearing gifts and was the most attentive and loving I’d ever seen him, begging me to believe he would never do anything to risk losing me.  I guess I could have worried about it and analyzed it all to death forever, but there was really no point.  So I accepted his explanation and we threw the letter away and never talked about it again.

So, did things get better after that?  Well, sort of.  I found my credit cards and cheque book and wallet in the bottom of D.’s toy box.  We celebrated her second birthday.  I got offered a job teaching grade six at the school right across the road from our house.  A teacher they had hired backed out at the last possible second,  and they were desperate to fill her position.  I said yes without hardly thinking about it.   W. made plans to go by boat to Bay Chimo.  I can’t remember why, but I didn’t have time to worry about it.  The school year started in mid August.  I had a babysitter who didn’t show up two days out of three, so I had to get Trudy to look after my kids.  Thank God she decided she liked doing it, and was nothing if not reliable.  Even when both of them got sick, which they did during my second week.  And then one day the RCMP showed up at my door to tell me that W. and his “guide” and a federal fisheries officer had never showed up in Bay Chimo and no one could find them.  I don’t know why I didn’t just shoot myself and be done with it all.  It took them two days of flying to finally find them, out of gas, with no drinking water, almost out of food and totally lost.  Turns out their “guide” was a kid who had never even been to Bay Chimo and just wanted to go for a boat ride.  You would think that one would have been the trip that finally cured W. of his need to travel by land and water to desolate places, and that he would start taking planes instead.  Not even close.  He went everywhere he could think of, for the most obscure reasons.  All work related.  But he did learn to use a radio and stay in contact with people daily.  I constantly got phone calls from people telling me they’d talked to him and where he was and what he was doing.  I know that was at least a step in the right direction.  Two more times he got stranded and had to be picked up by the RCMP.  Once was on a denning survey, and once on a polar bear hunt.  How boring it would have been to have a husband with a desk job.

We finally got home to Ontario for two weeks that Christmas.  Hectic but very therapeutic.  Both kids were sick with colds, but otherwise little angels.  I’m their mother, and I would know that.  When I went back teaching in January, I handed in my resignation as of May that year, and felt like a thousand pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I won’t say I hated it, I loved the kids in my class and we had a lot of fun, but I spent so much time worrying about them and torn between them and my own babies, that I knew I had to give it up.  D. and K. were becoming little people with little personalities, and I didn’t want to miss any more of it. The principal at the school practically begged me to reconsider, and gave me such a glowing letter of recommendation that I was stunned.  I thought about it seriously while I finished out the school year, but I didn’t change my mind.

That summer we packed up our kids and went home for my sister’s wedding, and then spent three weeks at our camp.  After that we flew back to Cambridge Bay and packed up everything, and five days later moved to Inuvik.  I can’t say I was sorry to see the last of that place.  There were lots of good times, but I think all the missing husband scares probably took a few years off my life.

One of my very favourite memories of our time there is of a morning when a bunch of us got together for breakfast;   ladies only – no husbands, no boyfriends, no kids.  If I had to put names to faces and vice versa I would not be able to do it now.  All I remember is the fun we had making the best crepes I have ever tasted in my life, the decadent fillings, the real whipped cream, the delicious coffee.  But mostly it’s the laughter that has stayed with me all these years,  and how we all felt practically normal in this so very NOT normal place.

Camp Log 3

July 07

Camp Log 2006, Part Three

On the Sunday following our arrival it rains all day long.  The guys go fishing because, let’s face it, men in general don’t know enough to come in out of the rain, and Ann and I scrounge around for some fun rainy day indoor stuff to do.  We watch a movie (The 40 Year Old Virgin) on my little battery operated DVD player.  The sound is pretty bad,  so we play it with sub-titles.  Then we decide to paint sun catchers.   Despite the fact that the sun catcher package says adult supervision required, they don’t turn out too bad at all.  We eventually get around to stringing them up with fishing line on a wire hanger.

Very classy addition to the decor.  We both take a solemn oath to never attempt this mind numbingly boring activity again, and both of us, with now severe cases of cabin fever, go out and sit on the deck in the rain.  Where the guys come home to find us, and wonder why we don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.

Monday is day one of shingling the roof.  What a production.  The guys haul over scaffolding, the nail gun apparatus, all the shingles and various tools and paraphernalia.  Ann and I wander off until we think we’ve gone a sufficient distance so as to be out of range for being asked to do anything helpful.  We paint rocks.  Rock painting has become a favourite camp activity for me.  There’s nothing but blank canvases everywhere you look, and often when you’re in the process of creating a small masterpiece, people will wander by to see how things are progressing and offer you refreshments.  That’s why I refer to one particular rock as the rum rock, because it took about four rum and cokes originally to complete it.  The paint has all faded, so I decide to give it a facelift.

Hmm.  It ends up looking like some kind of a demented goalie mask.

I also touch up the stick people – four of which are shown above.  There are many many more.  Think “invasion of the stick people” and you’ll have the right idea.  In the next few days we add even more, and gather driftwood for a sign, and put stepping-stones up one of the pathways to the cottage.

YES!  We have gone project crazy!!  And this is turning into a vacation slide-show from hell.  But please open your eyes for just a minute, so you can see our little cat and dog solar glow balls by the steps, and the wind chime way up there at the top of our stairway.   Okay.  You can doze off again.  I was going to add one of W. on the roof with a wet towel tied around his head, with the ends hanging down, so that he looks like a cross between a terrorist and Willie Nelson.  But probably just talking about that will leave you with a disturbing mental image for days.

The roof gets completed (it takes two days), we make plans for the flower beds, and take walks around the island and some pictures of the eagle’s nest.  And Canada Geese families.  And then we paint a big plastic barrel black in preparation for building our outdoor shower.  We declare tomorrow “Sit-On-Your-Ass-And-Do-Dick-All-Day”.  But of course that doesn’t happen.  Because it is W.’s mom’s birthday on Saturday and we have to prepare for our gala barbecue on the deck.  I think I’ll spare you those pictures too – a bunch of drunken friends and relatives sitting around in the sun.  Tomorrow we’re going to Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire!!  And we’re going to stop by the house in town to have REAL showers with ACTUAL HOT WATER!!  Be still my heart.

Camp Log 1

July 04

Camp Log 2006, Part One

I took a travel journal with me on our trip to Ontario.  Man.  Blogging is so much easier than actually picking up a pen and legibly writing stuff down.  Halfway slogging through sentences I’d forget what I was going to say.  Having written something stupid I’d realize there’s no backspace key.  Knowing that, and trying to write only non stupid things, slowed me down even more.   Somehow I managed to blather on for almost 30 pages.  So I’m adding the 2006 vacation to my illustrious history.  Jumping with both feet right into the present from my murky past.  I’ll be referring to my scribblings, not copying them word for word,  and editing and adding and revising.  You’ll just have to trust me that the absolute truth as I recorded it would bore you to tears.   I’m already boring myself, and I haven’t even gotten started.

Okay.  The night before, which was actually the day of our departure, because it was already past midnight, I took pen in hand and talked about my insomnia before going away somewhere.  And also about how I painted my toenails because that is something you HAVE to do the night before you go on vacation.  I think it’s probably a pre-vacation rule in some cultures.  The shade was a really interesting rusty-red.  It is now chipped and faded and looks quite disgusting and there’s an ugly scar on one of my big toes where I dropped a rock on my foot.  But on June 15th there are no battle scars yet.  We get up at 5:00 a.m.  At 7:00 we still have not left the city.  W. loves to run around all over the place at the last minute while I sigh audibly and roll my eyes and ask him why he didn’t do all this stuff yesterday.  He painstakingly explains to me why he never fills the gas tank completely because the truck runs better without the extra weight.  I cannot even comment on this.  I just do some deep breathing and admire my toenails all the way to Lloydminster.

In Saskatoon we take a little detour somewhere in the middle of construction and have to find our way back onto Circle Drive.  We see the sign just fine the second time around.  I like to talk when I travel.  W. doesn’t.  We see a pre-fab house and I wonder what a small one would cost, and how we could float it across to the island.  And where we should put it if we could get the damned thing up the hill.  Maybe we could fill up the foundation of the old house with cement and put the pre-fab house there.  It would be great to have some extra accommodation space.  And since W. is not listening, I suggest we put it there while the cement is still wet so that the house sticks to it when it dries.  Then I ask him if he thinks I should have a job in the field of construction.  He says no.

Early in the afternoon, around Dundurn, we are passed by bikes and bikes of Hell’s Angels.  They look like flocks of black crows zipping down the highway, buffeted by the wind.  I suggest they’re going on a picnic and W. just snorts.  We see a semi that went off the road and flipped over.  Yikes.  We drive through pouring rain and into the sunshine.  I want to know why all the big fat gross bugs splat on MY side of the windshield.  W. drives and drives and drives.  I doze on and off.  Every time I open my eyes we appear to be in the exact same place.  Saskatchewan on the trans Canada has got to be the most boring place to drive through on the face of God’s green earth.  At 7:30 we arrive in Brandon, Manitoba, home of…..I don’t know, some museums and stuff.  At this point I don’t care.  We check into the Comfort Inn and hear there are thunderstorm warnings in Cartwright, Kilarney, Mather and Turtle Mountain.  I wonder who names these places.  There is also a tornado watch somewhere complete with looney sized hail, but not here, and I expect that’s what it might take to wake me up tonight.  I get tired of listening to W. reading the entire weather channel and crash.  I can’t imagine how tired I’d be if I had done any actual driving.

If the desk clerk is to be believed, and why would she lie, there was booming thunder and a crazy light show complete with pouring rain over night.  Our air conditioner was so loud we heard nothing.  Not even each other snoring.  Bonus.  They should advertise that.  We’re off to Winnipeg.   When we get there we stop and buy groceries and pack our coolers with perishables and head for Kenora.  I may not be able to continue my travel memoir because I expect at any moment that the humidity is going to kill me.  W. asks me what the hell I’m writing.  I tell him I’m writing down EVERY SINGLE WORD HE SAYS.   That shuts him up completely for almost an hour.  In Keewatin we make our last and most important stops for booze and ice.

At 3:47 p.m. I am sitting on the deck although there’s still a thousand things to do.  The deer was on the side lawn when we came up the hill.  W. is being SO nice to me – he’s gone back over to load stuff into the boat himself.  I strongly suspect I just get in the way, so I don’t argue.  It always hits me when I’m here – I do love this place.  The water level is way down compared to last year, so the island seems bigger.  I hope this trip W. brings the spiced rum.  I send telepathic messages across the water.

At 4:16 W. is still over there gabbing with somebody and I decide it might be a good idea to pitch my watch into the river if I’m going to have to live with Mr. Fromadifferenttimezone up close and personal for the next 20 days.  There is cold beer in the fridge.  Thank you Darcy!  Thank God my father in law has his priorities straight.

The guy W. was talking to for so long turns out to be Dan, from two islands down.  His dad and W.’s dad were army buddies, and Dan and his wife actually live on their island, and we sometimes rent one of their cottages when we have lots of visitors.  He helps W. haul stuff up the hill and all I have to do is put it away.  It’s hot and muggy and the grass needs water.  We sit around staring at it for awhile.  Time slows down to a crawl.  We take pictures of a tree frog on the window sill.  He finally hops off in a flash blinded daze.  Then we hear the best best BEST sound ever.  The call of the loons.  Last year the water level was so high it destroyed their nests, but they’re back.  And we’re back.  And life is good.

Having Babies

Having Babies: Part One

Okay,  where was I?  Brand new parents to a baby girl with more character than either of us put together – from day one she had an attitude.  And great lungs and a temper.  We knew lots about parenting, but nothing about actually BEING parents.   Any child is a challenge, but in hindsight I know D. was more than the usual handful.  Our spirited child.  Isn’t that a lovely way to describe it?

W. had another year of university to complete.  I had to go right back to work in a mere four weeks.  My mom came to stay with us for a few days after D. was born.  After she left, I stood staring at my sleeping daughter and was overcome with the enormity of the responsibility we were taking on.  This little life in MY hands?   What was God thinking?  All the pent up emotions from the past months welled up and poured out.  I crawled into bed and refused to get up.  Poor W.  He put up with this emotional wreck of a new mom, bringing me food and my daughter when she got hungry, and blabbering away about post-partem depression, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than me that we could get ourselves through this.  Two days of being a drama queen was about all even I could stand.  And that’s when we made one of the two most asinine decisions we’ve ever come up with, and packed up ourselves and our newborn and took a two-day car trip to visit W.’s parents.  They were thrilled to meet their first grandchild.  I was exhausted, mentally and physically and spent the entire time there in some kind of zombie state.  So D. was at our island and a little camper practically from day one.

As much as my mother-in-law bugs the living shit out of me most of the time, I must give her credit for loving her grandchildren in her own strange way.  And she did help me realize a very important thing.  My daughter would not cease to exist if she was out of my sight.  She would not die if I left her with someone else for an hour or two.  MIL forced me to go fishing with W.  There was no heart to heart little talk about anything – that’s never been her style.  But one morning she just said that I needed to get out, and W. needed to take me, and to get the hell out of here, D. will be just fine.  It’s the closest I’ve ever come to having a panic attack.  Leave my baby?  W. didn’t have to drag me kicking and screaming to the dock, but it came close.  We lasted almost an hour with me constantly freaked out that D. might be hungry, or screaming, or in whatever state it is babies might get themselves into when their mothers aren’t around – I couldn’t even imagine.  And with W., thoroughly exasperated, saying JEEZUS Lin, my mother had three kids.  I think she knows what she’s doing.  We got back to find D. peacefully sleeping, exactly how we had left her.  How freaking amazing is that?  I know my MIL was trying to help me get out from under the enormous weight of the pressure I was putting on myself, to let me breathe and trust someone else to help.  I had to do it when I went back to work, like it or not.

We were incredibly lucky to find a babysitter that I felt I could trust.  She had six kids of her own, all in school, and she was missing the baby thing.  Her name was Mrs. White.  Isn’t it funny that I don’t even remember her first name?  She looked after my daughter Monday to Friday, 8 to 5, for the first year of her life.  It was kind of nice to have someone else to blame for how spoiled she was.  I often wonder what effect this all had on D.  Sometimes when we picked her up she would look at us with that little frown of hers, as if to say, ‘who the heck are you guys again?’  It was not an easy thing to do.  I probably missed a whole lot of her “firsts”, although Mrs. White was very kind and never said anything about D. doing something new until I mentioned it first.  D. never slept longer than a six hour stretch, from midnight to 6 a.m. that first year.  Her naps were short, few and far between.  She was active, curious, easily frustrated, loud, demanding.  We just assumed that was normal, having not much to compare it with.  We did have some friends who came over with their little Rebecca, who was a month younger than D. although bigger, and a child that they could plunk on the floor and she would actually stay in one spot.  I remember we thought there must be something wrong with that kid.

It was a hectic year.  We were all sleep deprived.  I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason for being lax with the birth control.  I recall having vague thoughts about not wanting D. to be an only child, and that if I ever had to make a conscious decision to get pregnant again, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to do it.  So I did it unconsciously.  W. finished his year and applied for a gazillion jobs.  He got two good offers.  One was a teaching position in Lindsay, Ontario.  The other was as a Wildlife Officer with the government of the NWT in Cambridge Bay.  And there you have the second most asinine decision we ever made.  How different might our lives have been, if we had gone left instead of right at that big fork in the road.  At the end of the summer, following D.’s first birthday, we headed north.  L & W’s Big Adventure begins.