Long before my life…what’s the phrase I want to use here? Caved in? Fell apart? Transformed? Long before everything changed, I’d agreed to house and pet sit for my dear friends Nat and Mike in the east end of Toronto. That’s where I am now; laying in their bed, the white noise of a little fan near the window drowning out all other sound. I’m up too early on a Sunday morning, but maybe I’ll nap after I write this.
I’ve been here since Wednesday, with Noodle at my side for three full days. I needed time, just the two of us, to have fun and go on city adventures. The first night we rolled in, we hit the beach for fish and chips, a first for him. He liked the food, but he liked the sand more, so it was up to me to finish our single serving. It was hard to convince myself to eat a pile of fried stuff while watching twenty-year-old women in bikinis playing beach volleyball. The seagulls were grateful for the fish and chips donation.
We trekked to the water’s edge. It’s remarkable how much time a young kid can spend throwing things into the water. I found an almost perfectly round white rock that reminded me of the full moon, and another tear-shaped rock with a stripe around the edges. I tucked these in my bag and then realized that I’ll need a nature table in my new home, wherever that may be. The beach was littered with gorgeous, fit bodies, couples in love, and young families with children. Why does heartbreak feel so much like panic? The worst has already happened, so what am I afraid of? I put my toes into the lake and with the shock of spring-cold water, asked for my pain to be taken away.
We noodled around on the playground. The sand was hot lava. Then we went to meet friends for ice cream. I drove to the wrong location, so by the time we finally sorted ourselves, I had a wired, tired five year old boy. He was like a shark in the way he couldn’t stop moving. And then, we added ice cream to his little body, which thankfully he barely touched. The Beaches are always bustling with people. Every time I’m there, I feel like I’m on a holiday. This time, I tried to take in all the sights and sounds while trying to keep my kid from picking things up off the city streets, listening to my friend try to make conversation, and most importantly, trying not collapse in a sobbing heap.
Home then for a quick walk with the dog and a bath to rinse out all the sand in Noah’s hair. He was beyond tired at this point, and I braced myself for the onslaught of emotion. Sure enough, he started sobbing. Homesick for the rest of his family, not completely sure if I’d brought him here because this was our new home, it was a mess. How do you console someone when they’re crying for the same things you are? I remained steady, and loving, and we moved through our routine for the rest of the night. Tears turned to giggles, we read the new Star Wars book my friends so sweetly left for him, and soon he was snoring. Not mommy though. I had to start my work day. I got in two solid hours before I began drooling on myself, and then was out cold as soon as the light was out. Hmm…maybe a new strategy for getting proper sleep? Work until I’m delirious, wake only when I have to. Nap if necessary. Repeat.
The next day we walked the dog, discovered a playground, and then Noah built an epic amusement park out of toddler-sized Lego bricks while I cracked my computer and got some more work in. Our afternoon destination was the Aquarium. He’s shark-crazy right now, so this first visit was sure to blow his mind. He fell asleep in the car, which was great because with a Jays game to compete with, there was no parking to be found. I drove around for an hour looking, reminiscent of the time I briefly lived in Manhattan. I decided to take my chances on a side street, where I was relatively sure I wouldn’t get towed. Surely, I wouldn’t get a parking ticket on top of everything else? (I didn’t. Thank you parking gods!)
Noodle had to work himself up to go see the sharks. We cut our teeth on freshwater fish and octopus. This reminded me of when he was a baby, when he was OBSESSED with horses. He only had a few words, and one of those was ‘NeighNeigh’. We took him to the Royal Winter Fair, so he could see these great beasts up close, and he was terrified. I couldn’t understand how getting close to something you loved so much could be scary. I think I get it now. With enough distance, these creatures are alluring and magnificent. Close up, you realize they can kill you.
After lunch, and some indoor playground time, he was ready to take on the sharks. Noodle was delighted with how the tanks seemed to stretch on and on. He really took his time, searching for each species, and we read lots of the info cards. Impressive because I didn’t think his attention span was up for so much research. As we finally wrapped up, we visited the gift shop and chose a plastic shark head full of tiny aquatic creatures. These came in handy, because our next stop was with a warm and lovely couple who I’ll be uniting in marriage next month. Thankfully, they liked kids.
Then dinner in Kensington Market. A tired and overstimulated kid doesn’t care about exciting bustle and vibrant street life. They think it’s bullshit that we have to park so far from the place we’re supposed to be. We met my dear cousin for pho, and like so many of my nearest and dearest, all she could do was shake her head in bewilderment and shed some tears on my behalf. On our behalf. I get the same question over and over:
I may never have the answer.
A spin around the block with the pooch and then we dropped into bed. This time Noodle tried to read the Star Wars book to me. My heart feels next to exploding with every new word he masters. He’s unlocking the universe, one syllable at a time. It occurs to me to make more space for pleasure reading, now that I’ll have more alone time. I slept that night like I had no worries in the world.
On our final day together, we use our ROM membership to visit our dino friends, see the animals, and of course, the mummy. We contemplate why there is an alarm in the mummy’s glass case. Is it climate control? Is it in case he gets up and wanders around after hours? Is it because treasure hunters may try to steal him and remove the ancient ruby hidden in his chest cavity? We eat lunch and split a chocolate croissant, choose a dino Lego set and matching moon and stars necklaces for his sisters, and then we head home. We take the dog to the playground at the end of the street and I make friends with my first single dad. He’s not my type, but I’m encouraged by how kids make the best of ice breakers. Maybe someday…
After some play time, we head to the beaches for dinner with Kathryn, one of my very best friends, and my dear, sweet Dave. Noodle is amused to learn that these people who he doesn’t recognize used to hold him and sing to him and sometimes even feed him while mommy was onstage, or when they came to our Toronto house to visit him. He cozies right up to both, as if he can sense that they are my lifeline right now. As if he loves them because they love me, complete with all my mess. They engage him until he’s too tired to chat, and then they hold him close while he amuses himself with a shark game on my phone. I’ve used up all my data this month trying to create distractions. Both for the boy, and for myself.
That night, I sleep as close as I can to my son, knowing it will be days and many miles before I see him again. I never dreamed I’d have to see him only fifty percent of the time. I never imagined being without him until he was grown and fending for himself. His sweaty head smells like summertime and his own unique delicious blend of earthy goodness. How do people do this? How do people move through this loss and still feel like their lives are full?
On Saturday, I delivered Noodle home to his dad. I painted on my mask, squeezed myself into a little dress and a pair of heels, curled my hair and headed off to marry a beautiful couple as their bridal party and I overlooked Niagara Falls.
“To find love, we must first take the chance of risking our heart to one another.
For it is only then, in the very act of offering ourselves, that true love is discovered.”
In this life I’ve taken so many chances. I think it’s time to fold for a while.