Friday, 22 February 2008

Life in a northern (company) town

One of those golden winter evenings, as I made my way to elder daughter's high school for one of those dread parent information meetings. I found myself wishing I'd brought my camera, although I doubt I would have had time to capture images from a moving bus. Enormous, I mean, mammoth tusk-like icicles were gnawing and yawing from the gutters of the heritage houses in Sandy Hill, the setting sun shining and slicking them.

I abandoned bus at Laurier and crossed the bridge, pausing to watch preprandial skaters skidding up and down the Rideau Canal, before doing some skidding myself on the woefully poorly kept-up pathways by City Hall. In the rather grand library at Lisgar Collegiate (gold painted molding and a decorated ceiling -- yoicks!), I took my seat next to the Resident Fan Boy to hear all about eldest daughter's upcoming class trip to Paris, Provence and Barcelona.

Now here's the trouble of living in a "company town":  In Ottawa, the "company" is the federal government which meant we were surrounded by civil servants (the Resident Fan Boy being one). So we had elder daughter's Core French teacher from last year, a pretty Italian Argentinian who speaks with that slightly lisping accent which sounds like she's going to gob very elegantly, dealing with pointed questions about supervision and safety from parents who feel at home in boardroom meetings and seminars. Never mind the fact that this is the fourth such trip she has planned; many parents sounded as if they had serious doubts she knew what she was doing. Of course, these were the very same people who had failed to bring the requested forms and photocopies of passports, so we spent the first 45 minutes straightening this out. I nudged a mum I knew across the aisle and stage-whispered: "Do you think it would be rude if I read my book? I mean it's a great book, I could read it out loud..."

When we got home long after dark, I located the note that accompanied the forms and brandished it at the Resident Fan Boy: "See! The requirements for the meeting were listed!" "Yes," he said, "But it doesn't actually say 'Bring the forms'. These are government servants. They're used to doing only what's required and no more." Gawd, I hate this city...

Still, elder daughter is likely to have a splendid time. At least 3 of her best buddies are going along and of the four teacher chaperones, three are former (and, thank God, favoured) instructors of hers, including her very favourite English teacher.

"Too bad Ming the Merciless isn't going," I remarked to the Resident Fan Boy ("M the M" is her current math teacher -- a bit like Professor Snape, only with a sense of humour). "They'd get to all the tours on time."
 "Yeah, but he'd make them do Math homework every night," said the RFB. We imagined him forcing the hapless students to work out formulas based on the architecture of Versailles. Elder daughter had just finished another stressful evening completing a dozen of his demanding algebraic problems.

This morning, on the bus to speech therapy, I coldly stared down a woman who was looking at younger daughter with one of those bewildered and slightly outraged expressions that people seem to think is appropriate for observing those not neurologically typical. (Younger daughter was engaged in a conversation with her dog puppets at the time.) And on the bus home, I was asked by a young father if I'd babysit his severely autistic son. He said he'd noticed how good I was with younger daughter. God knows what he thought he saw. I guess younger daughter's differences were especially apparent today...

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