“Ow-wooo. Ow-woooo. Ow-woooooo.”
One fine spring day, I was driving down Columbia Street in Waterloo with four little boys in the car, three sons and one nephew, and they were barking.
Driving with the boys was never ideal. I had a Toyota Corolla, and hauling four kids fueled with boundless energy in my little car required massive concentration. Mitigation of noise and activity was a perennial challenge since I needed to focus on driving, rather than the negotiatin of arguments, countering McFlurry requests or judging wrestling matches.
These were active boys, and it was the early two thousands—before smartphones, iPads and other convenient, energy-numbing, child-silencing devices.
At least, in those days though, yelling at a naughty child was not yet banished, and pulling the car over, and then threatening to walk home alone, and leave them behind unless they shut up calmed down, was not yet a punishable-by-law offense.
Suffice to say, solo-parenting boys required bribery, threats and distraction. These were important mom-arsenal and extremely effective. Not that I didn’t think ahead. I did make sure to say, each time I used one of these tactics, that when they were adults, I would cover the fees should they need counseling to get over their childhood.
On this particular day while on the way home from our usual Friday pick up of nephew Spencer, one of the four boys came up with a new game.
And that is how I ended up driving a car with young boys, securely trapped strapped in by his seatbelts, three of them hanging out windows, panting, barking or howling like dogs. Except for poor Warren, being last-born boy and runt of the litter, who was forced to howl from the hump in the middle.
In my mind, I figured public barking was a small price to pay for car-peace. I was could just focus on just driving, since the in-car entertainment eliminated the need for radio, talking or boy-brawling . Even when the barking was noticed by people on the streets, embarrassment on my end had flown out the window years before. And besides, Columbia Street was four lanes, meaning very busy. Thus, a car filled with barking boys easily blended in, and mostly, they were drowned out by the traffic.
But then, they discovered red stop lights.
In a university town, gorgeous spring days bring everyone to the streets. And it was one of those days, and I was driving in University of Waterloo territory.
Droves of students, in ones, twos, threes and bigger groups, were immersed in their own worlds and particularly vulnerable, alluring prey when crossing the street on a green when we were stopped at a red.
Barking targets were everywhere.
At the first red light, the boys honed their attack. They quieted down when students began to cross on the green and adopted the look of nicely behaved children should anyone glance in the car. When the unsuspecting prey were a few steps from the front of our car, the boys leapt into action, thrusting their heads out the window and commencing barks, yips, howls and growls.
Yes, there were startled looks and some jumps. But once the notion of being barked at by four little boys was absorbed, more often than not, the students just started laughing, along with me, the long-suffering mom at the wheel.
I’d like to say the boys grew out of barking. But seems the habit stuck, far longer than I’d ever imagined. And recently, it traveled all the way to Halifax.
The West Jet stork arrived last Thursday, and with it came my 27-year old nephew, Spencer.
I received a warning of the delivery by a text message, midnight of arrival day.
Text: 2016-03-17, 12:02am “Are you awake? I want to come visit you ASAP. This weekend, maybe for a week or two. Call in the morning. Will explain. You probably already know anyway.”
I wasn’t awake, and I didn’t know. But when I read the text in the morning, I sent him a note.
Text: 2016-03-18, 6:44am “Okay. Call me this morning. As early as possible.”
Five minutes later, Spencer and I were on the phone, and he was explaining the reason for the visit. His girlfriend had broken up with him. It seemed the aftermath of his broken heart was equipped with the horsepower to blow him all the way to the East Coast.
I got that, but here I went again.
As a mom and aunt, I am only ever as happy as my unhappiest child or nephew. I’d been sleeping great lately, knowing the next generation of males in my life were all happily paired off. But now, game over and not even 7am. It was all I could do not to call up Spencer’s ex and blast her, not only for hurting one of my boys, but for messing up the balance of my happiness.
Growing up, Spencer spent pretty near every other weekend at the mama-Clerk household, hanging out with my sons, the three Jones boys. He was fed, yelled at, driven around, co-opted for chores, took part in adventures alongside my boys, and generally, was a regular fixture of life-in-progress on Roosevelt Avenue.
And while I knew nothing I had to say would mend his broken heart, I figured a dose of the usual—feeding, yelling, driving about, chores, an adventure with his cousin, and absorption into life-in-progress in the Halifax cave—might be a welcome change and maybe even kick-start his healing.
The sooner he arrived in Halifax, the better.
Arrangements were made that day for a flight that evening and airport pick-up figured out. And Friday morning of last week, the full Clerk/Jones immersion heart-mending mission began.
There’s an old adage, truer than not, that in challenging times, it’s often two steps forward, one step back. I made the leap the step back during Spencer’s visit would include a lot of bad junk-food, plenty of couch time and movies, and probably a slide back in time to remember on the fun and adventure of the growing up days.
It all started on Sunday night. Warren, Sara and Spencer were in another world and not paying attention to ME and my mom-talk at dinner. When I mentioned the fact, Warren responded by dropping a bark into the conversation, and Spencer immediately picked it up, with a bark of his own.
The rest of the dinner, I heard a yip here and a bark there, followed by giggles from Warren and Spencer. Eventually, we filled in Sara and told her the story of the barking-in-the-car, long ago adventure.
And then Sara got into it. Next thing I knew, all talk was abandoned, and it was the year 2000 again. While I wasn’t in a car on Columbia Street, we were in a tiny cave-space, and I was, once again, inundated with human barks.
By the end of evening, each of the three had crafted and honed their adult barks. I slid into tolerant-mom-mode, letting the barks blend into the background din. But to be fair, I was also a little impressed with the authenticity of their barking talents, though I worried my neighbour upstairs might wonder if I had adopted a menagerie or had a litter of puppies and dogs in my flat.
As they say, all is well and good until someone pokes out an eye or people outside your tribe see inside your tribe, without the shades to filter the brightness of the sun. And that brings me to Monday evening.
The four of us, Warren, Sara, Spencer and me, were invited to a lobster-dinner at my friend Sandy’s house. Things were going very well, until I heard a yip. An eyebrow shot up, and it wasn’t mine.
Though I’m used to, tolerant of, and indeed, even encouraging of our tribe’s sometimes-odd behaviours, I’d forgotten something very important.
Most of my friends back in Waterloo were veterans of the full-breadth of permutations that were part and parcel of me, my sons and nephew when we’re together. Anyone who couldn’t handle the heat had long since fallen away.
But Halifax is not my home turf, and Sandy was still a relatively new acquaintance. He’d yet to experience more than Warren, Sara and me on our best behaviour. One more member of the tribe, however, was all it took to knock us all into full Clerk/Jones glory.
“Uh, the barks go back to when they were kids,” I lamely offered Sandy as explanation. Then I stuffed some lobster in my mouth.
At the end of an intermittently bark-filled evening, I went into Sandy’s kitchen to round-up the dishes and food I’d brought with me. Trailing me were my three kid-dult puppies.
I’d made brownies, and after I took some out for Sandy, they encircled me, trying to grab brownie chunks of from the pan like they were unfed puppies. I believe I heard a few mewling noises from one or two of them too, just loud enough for me to hear.
I sighed, remembering how so recently, I thought I might retire Project Friend. It had done me very well, and my social life, though not booming, was healthy enough to keep me happy. But after this barkfest, I probably needed to keep it going, in I left Sandy’s house one friend less.
The next morning, when Spencer was up and we were chatting about the dinner the night before, I mentioned I might never hear from Sandy again.
“Nah,” said Spencer. “You will. I sussed him out, and he’s cool.”
Later that evening, Sandy texted to see if Spencer might be interested in jamming with him and his buddies.
Phew. Hadn’t scared him away, at least not quite yet.
It’s Thursday now. And though Spencer and I have yet to enter the territory of his broken-heartedness, I think my plan is working.
He’s being fed (sometimes even doing the cooking), yelled at, driven around, and he’s done a few chores around the place, (including slogging the couch and furniture around to try a different orientation, which we like). He’s had several adventures with Warren and Sara, and we still have three days left to deal with more serious issues.
Not sure when we will get to that. In the world of tribes and family, these things might be more effectively addressed though means other than talking, such as barking.
Now, should the weather get warm and sunny here before he leaves, and we find ourselves driving around downtown and we’re stopped at a red light with people crossing in front of the car, I am hoping the mood doesn’t grab me. This time.
Apples and trees. Well, you know how it goes.