Friday, 13 February 2009

Hello my baby frog

Yesterday's thaw melted layers of snow away and like an archeological dig took our front yard back in five weeks back in time. The needles left from the Christmas tree that waited forlornly for the chipper after Epiphany are now resting on top of the snow as if the beaten balsam was hauled away only yesterday, and a paper coffee cup that someone apparently tossed by our porch sometime before Christmas slowly emerged from the snow bank throughout the day. Today, the temperatures have plummeted back to -12 Celsius, and the streams of water leaking from underneath the drifts have frozen into hazardous C-shaped patches of ice across the sidewalks.

I've been traveling back in time too. Despite the pain of reliving past Februarys, (that's why they call it "nostalgia" - νόστος nostos "returning home", and άλγος algos "pain" ), I have been unable to resist following February from about 1989 to now. Some events I remember, some I have forgotten but the entries bring them back, and there are things I don't remember even though I made a note of them at the time, a shame because they are happy memories that I wrote down to preserve. One was of watching the Resident Fan Boy standing in a beam of afternoon sun streaming into our bedroom. I was sick, and he had taken elder daughter to the park and was enthusiastically regaling me with their adventures. Another was of returning home down the boulevard from a Shrove Tuesday dinner at Christchurch Cathedral in Victoria on a clear night under a sky brimming with stars. Elder daughter, about three or four at the time, was balancing along the walls and singing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star". Little gems of life that have been pushed completely from my mind, but they must have happened; I wrote them down. I watch myself moving sightlessly through the past towards my present. I can't help but feel compassion for her, my hopeful, clueless past self. She won't know what hit her.

Here's a memory I hadn't lost. To understand it, you may need to see this classic Warner Brothers cartoon from the 1950s:

It's a cold February afternoon without the slightest hint of melting, our first winter in Ottawa (I don't recall a Winterlude thaw that year). Younger daughter is four, and I'm still raw and wounded from the result of a team assessment by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario the previous month. February means phone calls, forms, slipping into the basement to cover my weeping under the hum of the washing machine. And consultations. On this particular afternoon, the consultant is a Speech Language Pathologist, making a home visit to observe younger daughter. She turns up during lunch, and younger daughter is doing what she does best --- under-performing. One of the aches of having a special needs child is being forced to see the little person under your care through others' eyes, particularly professional, assessing eyes. Every beloved quirk becomes a symptom, every endearing idiosyncrasy becomes a note on a pad and later, a line in a report. My heart sinks as I hear younger daughter murmuring to herself in unintelligible syllables. At one point during lunch, the SLP remarks brightly, "That sounded like noodles!"

"She can say 'chicken noodle soup', I say as lightly as I can manage. But I know I'm Just-a-Mother-in-Denial. After lunch, the consultant pulls out her bag of tricks, and tries to guide younger daughter through some matching games involving animals and numbers. She also attempts to get younger daughter to join in the various verses of "Old McDonald's Farm". Finally, she packs up, smiles encouragingly at me and leaves with a few supportive comments and suggestions.

"May I have some chicken noodle soup?" asks younger daughter. That evening, she will inform her father that she "played wit' an'mals an' money", and, sitting on the stairs after an outing, launches into several verses of "Old McDonald's Farm" with all the animal noises. I shovel the walkway, singing under my breath: "Send me a kiss by wi-yah; Babee my heart's on fi-yaaaah..."

("Ribbet," says younger daughter. Everywhere a-ribbet, ribbet?)

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