My Little Lioness

lion_cubWhen you get down to it, there isn’t much in the world that can put out the fire in little Jill’s heart. She has a smile that would melt the frozen tundra, and somehow she manages to be both delicate and strong. Within her tiny frame, all 3 and a half feet of her, is the spirit of a lioness.

Jill has a love of horses.

Although she already spends her days at a farm, she would stay there all night, too, if she could. She would probably curl up in some clean corner of a stall, not far away from one of her four legged friends, if we but turned our back on her for long enough.

Last year, a few months after she started attending therapy at the farm, she made friends with a pretty little white pony, named Crystal.

Crystal has a love for her human friends that shines as bright as Jill’s smile. She is a “hog” for attention, and is just the right size for little Jill. With her therapist walking at her side one day, Jill rode Crystal around the field of tall grasses, and around the old cottage at the foot of the driveway, and around the decrepit old shed that is overgrown with ivy and other vines.

Jill’s father and I were chatting with the mom of another little boy who attended therapy there, talking animatedly about how we were going to haul the family away right after Jill’s therapy session, for a blissful weekend of camping at French Beach. Jill and her little brother Jack were excited to go, too. They were looking forward to playing with their glowsticks in a darkened tent, and getting filthy and not having to shower for a whole three days.

So, the smile that we had on our faces as we turned toward the sound belied the intensity of the bloodcurdling shriek that came from the direction of the ivy-covered shed. We looked in that direction, naturally concerned, but stayed where we were. It sounded for all the world like a typical meltdown, and we knew full well the therapist could handle it.

Call us callous, but we’re used to the meltdowns, and we know when we can let others deal with it. Before long, however, we saw the therapist walking back up the driveway with Jill in her arms, still in the middle of a full on screaming meltdown.

We had to shout to be heard over Jill. Still, we managed to ferret out the gist of what had happened- as she was riding along on Crystal, a fern wrapped itself around Jill’s arm, setting off her sensory issues. She started screaming and crying, and launched herself off the pony and onto the unsuspecting therapist, who wasn’t prepared to catch her. Although we didn’t know it then, Jill had broken her arm by landing on her therapist.

Since we had all our worldly goods stowed in the back of our van, in preparation for a weekend away, we also had some children’s Tylenol. Without really knowing why, but figuring it would take away the inevitable headache that results from your run of the mill Epic Meltdown, we laced her thoroughly with it. Also figuring it would sort itself out before long, we ended the session, carefully bundled the kids into the car, and headed to French Beach anyway.

Alas, we got there to find out our reservation hadn’t “stuck”… our spot had been given away, and so had all the others. So, as we turned back home, we had two kids melting down in the back of the van. Jack was new to the whole thing, but he knew he was missing out. As for Jill, there wasn’t much that could tear her away from the idea of camping for a whole weekend. Having to turn around when she could see the trees and the other kids playing was as close to the Apocalypse as you could get.

It wasn’t until the next day, when we realized Jill couldn’t lift her arm without screaming bloody murder, that we knew something was actually wrong. After spending half a day in the hospital to get the verdict, my partner and I were ready to throw in the towel.

“I guess we’ll have to stay home this weekend,” I said, heaving a sigh.

Jill, her arm already in a sling, issued an emphatic “no”, in her own way; to wit, crying and wailing about how she still wanted to go camping.

We did go, after all. It wasn’t to French Beach, but rather to Saltspring Island- the only place we could find a spot, but also the best place we could have ever landed. Throughout that weekend, I watched my little girl play, almost as if nothing was wrong. She couldn’t lift her arm, or put weight on it, however, which meant she couldn’t climb or help us carry things. She did get good and dirty, though. I don’t think there was a single spot on her that was still clean by the end of the weekend. She gloried in all the dirt, and did her level best to take most of it home with her by wearing it.

When we came home, all exhausted and sunburned but oddly happy in spite of all things, I fully expected our little city-bred farm girl to tell me she wanted nothing to do with horses anymore. After all, she did break her arm jumping off of one. Between the three of us, her therapist and my partner and I, we hoped we could at least talk her into attending her sessions at the farm, even if she didn’t want to be near the horses. There was even mention of letting her choose which horse or pony she wanted to ride, out of all of them.

Now, Crystal doesn’t stand very tall. On my 5’8” frame, her head might come to my shoulders. She is not the smallest on the farm by a long shot, but neither is she the biggest. The biggest horse there, in fact, is a Percheron gelding by the name of Viktor. His withers are just about level with the top of my head; he is perhaps twice as tall as Crystal, and at least three times as big, overall…

And my daughter wanted to ride him.

The very next Friday she sat astride the huge horse, looking not much bigger than a Lego figurine on his back. She sported her bright pink riding helmet, a dark blue arm sling, and a proud smile to put the sun to shame.

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The Crumble Incident

In 2002, I was living in Inverness, Scotland. My fiancé and I were renting a fantastic little apartment that looked like something straight out of a catalogue. My favourite part was the kitchen. It was a tad on the small side, but perfect for two people. The floors were terracotta tile, the cupboards were light pine, the appliances were stainless steel, and the walls were painted a pleasant buttery yellow. There was even a washing machine.

The apartment came to us looking the way it did, but if the decorating were left to us, we would have probably done it the same way.

There was one little thing about the kitchen that was a little odd: the “hood” above the stove wasn’t really a hood… it was a piece of decorative wood in front of an empty space. We never knew why the landlord didn’t install an exhaust fan, but it was never really an issue.

In April of that year, my sister and her then-boyfriend were supposed to be coming all the way from Canada to visit us for a little vacation. It was the first time I had ever met The Boyfriend.

Knowing that my sister had a few dietary issues that we would have to plan around, my fiancé and I came up with a series of sister-friendly meals so that she wouldn’t have to feel left out. The day after they arrived, which also happened to be my sister’s birthday, the dinner menu was to include roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed vegetables, and a mixed berry crumble for dessert.

I practically hibernated in the kitchen, making the dinner. There were dishes and ingredients everywhere- not a space to be found on the counters at all.

The Boyfriend popped his head into the kitchen and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I directed him towards a small baking pan, and practically threw some ingredients at him, telling him to put the crumble together… preferably in the dining room.

Put it together, he did. Like a boss. That thing was practically beautiful.

My man was doing what he did best, whenever I was busy making a big dinner: getting in the way. He got in the way at a champion level, picking that exact moment to “come in and help tidy up”.

By “come in and help tidy up”, I really mean “come in and magically be everywhere the wife needs to be”.

As I stood in front of the gas stove, sweating over my glazed carrots and mashed potatoes and dodging my man, The Boyfriend popped his head back into the kitchen and asked where he could put the pan of mixed berry crumble.

Knowing he’d never find a spot on the counter, I said: “Put it on top of the cupboards, it’s clean up there.”

To this day, I do not know exactly what made him forgo all the other cupboard tops.

I didn’t even think about what he was doing as I moved aside a little to let him squeeze into an available space in front of the stove. I simply moved aside, and kept stirring seasoning into the mashed potatoes.

In retrospect, that was probably what saved me.

As The Boyfriend was about to set the pan down on what he thought was a surface just above the stove, I looked up in horror.

There was an instant of panic in my eyes as the crumble began its downward spiral.

“Crap!” I shrieked, as the pan hit the stove top. The berries, and all their juices, went everywhere. Dark purple juices went all over the carrots, potatoes, nicely roasted chicken, the walls, counter, floor, you name it.

Everywhere but on me, apparently. I still have no clue how that happened.

I turned around. There behind me stood my man and The Boyfriend, with nice dark purple berry juice all over their white t-shirts and khaki shorts.

“Right!” I commanded. “Strip, you two!”

“Huh?” The Boyfriend asked, stupefied.

“You two are about the same size. You can borrow some clothing from my fiancé while I wash your clothes. If I get them into the wash right now, I can save them.”

I have to admit, I took no small amount of pleasure in the fact that there were two good looking men stripping down to their skivvies in my kitchen.

I managed to save their clothing from an evil stain, even if I never could get the berry juices completely off my nice yellow walls after that.

The dinner turned out to be oddly delicious. We had berry-flavoured roasted chicken, berry-flavoured glazed carrots, berry-flavoured mashed potatoes, and berry-flavoured gravy.

Needless to say, I never let The Boyfriend live it down after that. I made sure to tell everybody that I had him strip for me practically the day after meeting me.

The Band-Aid Challenge

i_love_band_aids_round_stickers-red53d5b717c34fd3ab536312eacf0355_v9waf_8byvr_324Jack is accident prone.

He is almost never without some kind of bruise, goose egg, or cut on him somewhere. He bumps into things for no apparent reason. He trips over air. He runs into walls, and introduces his face to the pavement more often than I would like to admit to. I chalk it up to him being a little boy- after all, aren’t little boys made of bumps and bruises?

It’s a sad fact that one of the best pictures I have of my son is of him (barely 3 years old), sporting a great big smile… and a golf ball sized, angry red patch of road rash right smack-dab in the middle of his forehead.

Jack is what you might call top-heavy. Basically, that’s a nice way of saying his head is bigger- and thus, heavier- than most. As a consequence, it’s the first thing to connect when he decides he has been out of touch with the concrete for far too long.

Two days ago, he must have figured that his face really needed to get up close and personal with the gravel driveway that leads up to his preschool. I wasn’t there when it happened, but if the thumb-print size spot of dried blood on his hat is anything to go by, the introduction didn’t go too well.

It must have been a real doozy, too, because he was acting pretty concussed between the time I picked him up- which was about 30 minutes after it happened- and the time we seated ourselves in the doctor’s office. My normally sunny little boy was in a seriously crabby mood, and could hardly stay on his feet.

Basically, he was acting like a pint-sized angry drunkard.

The gash on his noggin- because my son doesn’t do anything by halves– was about 2cm long, and needed 2 Steri-Strips to close it. I actually asked the doctor to use proper stitches, because I’m well acquainted with my kids’ almost superhuman ability to separate things that shouldn’t be separated. He insisted on the Steri-Strips, though, saying that they- coupled with a bandage and some extra adhesive- “oughta do it”.

If it weren’t for the fact that he’s been our family doctor for a few years, I would almost think he has never met my children.

Indeed Jill, alone, could probably “unwrap” a box that has been covered entirely in duct tape. It might take her 10 or 15 minutes, but she’ll do it.

When we went back to the school to pick her up at the end of the day, my partner and I made a special effort to tell Jill about Jack’s “owie”, and why she shouldn’t touch the bandage on his head.

We went on at length about it.

We told her, over and over, not to touch the bandage.

Each time, she nodded and said: “Ok”.

What I think she actually meant was: “Challenge accepted.”