Ye gods, it is a young person’s game, the raising of children. I’ve just spent three days and nights with my grandsons, aged 3 and 6, and though they are a marvel and I adore them, they have drained every last bit of energy from my body. I’m in a daze, but at least now I get to sit in my silent house and recuperate. Their mother has to keep right on going. Good thing she’s 30 years younger than I.
Our journey to Ottawa had its difficulties, largely juggling the needs of my 98-year old aunt in hospital with those of two very energetic little boys. Luckily, we had a vital secret weapon: their mother, my daughter Anna, who planned the journey within an inch of its life. They had their snacks packed in cases with freezer packs, little tubs filled with cucumber or squares of cheese, a playlist of travel songs we’d all enjoy and another specifically for Ben with his favourite songs, especially Old McDonald Had a Farm and Justin Beiber’s Despacito, neither of which I ever want to hear again. On the way there, she located a fabulous playground in Kingston, more or less half way, and on the way back, an even better playground in Belleville. So we broke the journey to let the wild animals out of the back of the car; they ran and climbed and slid and swung and got soaked in the water park, and then we managed to strap them down and set off again.
Even so, the last hour, both ways, was excruciating, with one very small boy making sure we knew he was not enjoying his enforced imprisonment. And of course coming into Toronto there was gridlock, and screams from the back. By the end I was flinging stuff back there – candy, crackers, books, anything to buy a few more minutes of peace, while Anna maneuvered the car magnificently under pressure.
In Ottawa I’d rented a 3 bedroom airbnb house which was perfect, mostly because it was so plain, there was nothing in it to break – well, almost nothing – and a playground around the corner, which she took them to once and I, twice. They had a great visit with my brother in Quebec while I spent the day with my aunt, and then next day, after a morning in the terrific Museum of Nature, they all came with me to visit her. The boys had made paintings as gifts. It was a beautiful and moving encounter, 3, 6, and 98.
She and I had some tough work to do to figure out what’s next for her, but finally, after consulting with her doctor, the occupational therapist and the social worker, and mostly, with her dear friends back at her apartment building whom I went to see one evening, the answer for me was clear: it’s time for assisted living. She looks as if she’s being condemned to death when she considers this, but I now have no doubt that once she’s there, she will find much to enjoy. And she is beginning reluctantly to accept this.
We visited her again today on our way out of town. At the end, Anna took the boys to the hospital Tim Hortons to buy a box of Timbits each, guaranteeing peace for the start of our journey, and I stayed for a last farewell with my aunt. Next week, when I turn 68, it will be my first birthday since the age of three without a card from her. We had a tender hug – she is so frail, so tiny and bent – and she got her walker and came with me to the door of her room to say goodbye. As I walked down the hall, I kept turning and waving, as she stood waving. She made me cry. Such a trouper.
And then the paradise of an hour and a half in the car with two sleeping children stuffed with Timbits and my beautiful, calm, wise daughter. We of course had to moan about what the despicable Doug Ford is doing to the city of Toronto and many other political issues about which we are in complete agreement. At one point, at the end of the trip, when Ben was screaming, I wondered for a second if it’s worth it to have children. And then I looked at my daughter.
Eli’s painting for Auntie Do
More art from the artists
The Museum of Nature – a terrific place with real dinosaurs
Do receives her magnificent artworks
Hanging around at the playground
One pushing down the tree, the other holding it up.
Home. In the garden, three huge cucumbers, tons of beans and tomatoes. I need to sort out my life. The adventure continues.