My ankles are itchy. For whatever reason that bony part of my body seems to be the preferred cut of meat to the mosquitos in my parent’s yard. They are relentless and I find myself surrounded by smoking citronella coils and mentally blocking out all the horrible things I’ve heard about DEET as I spray myself down. Becoming a garden buffet to kamikaze insects was not one of my expectations when Noah and I jumped across the border to visit the Canadian side of our family. It seemed far more likely a scenario in the lake country we just came out of in midwest America. Either way there is nostalgia that comes with the bumpy welts, a topographical map of memories across the backs of my legs. Memories of hot sleepless nights in a dingy Sri Lankan hostel, them too cheap to put nets over their beds, and us miserably and unsuccessfully fending off the blood sucking air-raids. Going even further back, images of my sister and all our cabin mates at the French Catholic sleep-away camp, lined up to have the head nun dab all our itchy spots with her magic medicine, counting the pink polka-dots as she went. Calamine dreams.
I avoid my first instinct, which is to hide out in the house. That just defies the entire point of being here. The beauty of this place, aside from the obvious doting grandparent factor, is the room to breath. Outside the front door is not a hot apartment hallway or bustling city avenue, but grass, trees, shade and wind, and all belonging to our family. Noah keeps busy in mom’s gorgeous garden, digging in the sandpit, watering plants, swinging in the hammock, admiring the Cardinals that brave their shyness to steal seeds from the feeder and pointing out the passing propellor planes overhead. On sleepy rainy days like today, we venture farther and he puddle jumps from one neighbors driveway to the next, until we land in the almost empty ball-park bleachers at the corner park, cheering on both teams of foul mouthed butchy ladies swinging bats at softballs. I force myself to sit back. It takes a lot of effort for me to do just that, with or without mosquitos. My mind is always restless with one thought or another. It’s noisy in my head, but being here helps turn the volume down a bit.
Mom and dad like to call this place their cottage in the city, and I can see why. They’ve made the one home they have into the place they want to be almost all the time. Even though I didn’t grow up here, living out of a suitcase in the spare room still feels like I belong. If you know my parents at all, you know it’s almost impossible to outstay your welcome and already i’m getting pressure to change my ticket and stretch it an extra week. The idea is tempting. It has been worlds easier to parent Noah with no less than 3 sets of adult eyes on him at all times, eat meals not made by my own hands and sleep that extra 30 minutes that makes you feel one step closer to sanity.
We have another sanctuary south of the border, similarly in the company of other grandparents at what there is called the lake cabin. I still sometimes call it the cottage as we would here in Ontario. The giggles I receive in response to my commonwealth vernacular remind me how different things are just a stones throw below the 49th parallel (restrooms not washrooms, Cub Scouts not Air Cadets, run in miles and remember that there are 4 liters to a gallon). Every other weekend we brave the traffic and escape the concrete jungle to drive north 3 hours to our American family’s lakeside escape. Noah stays awake for as much of the drive as he can, identifying every train track and engine, digger and dump truck along the way. He loves it up there to no end, and he’s a different kid entirely when all the boundaries of the city are removed. There are no streets he can’t cross or places he can’t play. He wades into the muddy waters with Matt, plants beans with his grandma, rides every one of Grandpa’s wheeled machines and of course eats copious amounts of everything we never feed him at home. The cabin with all its trimmings, like my parent’s home, is big enough to hold him. At the end of the day I check the crooks and crannies of his little body for ticks and then he happily falls asleep, full of happy-tiredness, without much fuss.
I haven’t made up my mind about the tickets yet. To stay or to go, it always seems to be the question i’m trying to answer. I have a bad habit of feeling like the grass is always greener on the side i’m on. The prospect of returning state-side to long weekdays wrangling Noah alone after so much family time here almost gives me a panic attack. But I have to remember the glorious weekends with our other family that help bring so much balance to our small trio. For that i’m grateful. We’ll bounce back and it won’t take long for us to find our American groove. It’s never perfect, but there are many good things to look forward to.