The Luna Park below our house resembles a wet dog, and perhaps that’s all the explanation needed about my state of motivation this morning.
We had one of those weekends that feels like seventeen in retrospect. My senses are still full of the happy clamor of house guests, the blur of wildflower lights on the girls’ favorite caterpillarcoaster, and the orchestrated clatter of fifty Perudo dice. We made new friends, including an amazing gal whose background parallels my own, and I wish we had more time together. At the same time, my batteries are so thoroughly drained that the indicator stopped blinking. As much as I don’t want to be a textbook anything, you can find an exact description of me in any psychology manual on the page about introverts. I need frequent breaks, quiet stretches of solitude, and Sunday afternoon naps in order to operate… and yesterday’s nap was trumped by a sick kiddo.
Does Murphy have a law about Monday mornings? Because I woke up this morning to rain, hormones, and an unpleasant substance tracked across the floor that was easily identified once I stepped in it, and I’m thinking Garfield was on to something. Here’s my current workup of a coping strategy: Step 1: Acknowledge that today is out to slay me and will most likely succeed. Step 2: Surrender. Step 3: Go back to bed. Step 4: Wait for someone to bring me a lasagna.
Or alternately, Step 1: Eat chocolate. Step 2: Blog. Step 3: Eat more chocolate. Step 4: Get done what I can get done today and count each accomplishment as a giant “In your face!” to Mondays everywhere.
My two-year-old’s face has collapsed on itself and is beginning to leak. “I don’t wanna nap!” she wails for the fortieth time. “I don’t wanna nap! I don’t wanna nap! I dooooon’t waaaaannnnaaa naaaaaaaap!” I notice she hasn’t moved so much as a millimeter toward the sink where I am waiting to brush her teeth.
I sigh and adopt my most motherly tone. “I know you don’t want to nap, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need your teeth brushed. Now please come here.”
She shuffles two steps before howling anew. “I wanna stay up! I wanna stay up! I don’t wanna nap! I’ll be good! I waaaaannnna staaaay uuuup!”
My patience is beginning to look the worse for wear. Through my head marches a ticker-tape parade of all the tasks I need to finish before a meeting tonight, though their footsteps are drowned out by Sophie’s wails, sounding ever more like an untended car alarm. What I want to do is yell at her. Matching her pitch might not be the most mature option, but it would feel awfully satisfying. I should know; I’ve yelled plenty of times before.
What I feel like I should do is force her into compliance. I was taught that children should never get away with disobedience, and I don’t want to set a precedent for bad behavior that will insure her a future as a card-carrying degenerate. I’m worried that I’ve somehow encouraged her current meltdown by being too lax a parent.
I do neither of these things though. I take a deep breath, and the confetti-strewn chaos in my head quiets. A gentle presence shows the shoulds to the door, and I’m able to see my little girl with perspective again. I remember cuddling her in the hospital bed after she was born and free-falling in love. I remember how she bounded out of her classroom at school an hour ago and ran giggling with happiness straight into my arms. I remember her affection, her sparkle, her imagination… and how her world crashes down around her when she’s tired (a trait she inherited from her mother). I remember that she’s only two.
I know exactly what to do. I scoop up my daughter, plant a few kisses, and brush her teeth as her protests subside. Then we snuggle up on my bed to read a pre-nap story. Her choice? “Olivia”—a picture book about an impulsive little pig whose mother has always seemed like a pushover to me. When Olivia replicates a Pollock painting on the living room wall, Mother Pig merely puts her in time-out before drawing her a bath and giving her a delicious supper. I’ve wondered from time to time why the mother didn’t make her scrub the wall or feed her raw brussels sprouts or, at the very least, yell her vocal cords ragged making Olivia feel properly miserable about her mistake.
This time, though, I understand.
When we finish the story, Sophie’s tears have dried. I kiss the ticklish spot below her ear until she bubbles over with laughter, and I tuck her under her covers where she curls around her beloved stuffed dog and closes her eyes. I borrow a line from Olivia’s mother: “You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.” And as I tiptoe out of her room preparing to panic over my unfinished tasks, the leftover grace tiptoes after me.
I love the spices of October, the layers in her wardrobe, her moonrises and fogbanks, her apple-cheeks and smoky curls. However, my favorite trait of October, the one that endlessly flirts with my imagination and wins me over year after year, is a color.
It was even nice having people to bid goodbye to the next morning, though we were all a little disappointed to be leaving the Highlands. It felt like we had just arrived in Scotland, yet our trip was already more than halfway over. Loch Ness was appropriately moody for the occasion, and petulant clouds spit at our car as we drove away. We only knew of one surefire cure for that kind of slump: 1) Turn up the Fratellis, 2) headbang in four-part harmony, and 3) get ourselves to the water park stat! Dinosaur water slides were clearly called for, and Edinburgh wouldn’t be going anywhere yet. Over the next two hours, we discovered that you girls are decidedly not fans of wave pools and that Italian swimsuits look out of place in the UK. (Oops.) However, that did nothing to dampen (ha) your enthusiasm for splashing around. I was especially impressed when you, Natalie, voluntarily went down the Three Story Tunnel Slide of Dizziness and Possible Death… and immediately did it again. My adventurous streak didn’t strike until I was old enough to guzzle coffee, and I’m thrilled that you found yours early on and without the need for recreational caffeine.
On our way out, we caught a rare glimpse of the Loch Ness monster looking *remarkably* like your souvenir doll, Sophie, and sporting what you, Natalie, referred to as “an awful hat.” The legend lives on!
By the time we arrived in Edinburgh that evening, you had finally gotten over the injustice of not being allowed to spend the rest of your lives at the water park. The sobbing had stopped at any rate. However, you both refused to try the fried chicken at supper, and your dad and I had a sobering moment of realization that you are growing up without KFC. On the bright side, though, you also get to grow up away from the fashion atrocities we witnessed there. Keep in mind that Edinburgh is not the warmest place on Earth; in July, its temperature is equivalent to that of a February night in Texas… inside a meat packing plant. However, the local women seemed not to notice. Not one but two of the other restaurant patrons were wearing only shirts and shoes. Oh yes, and thongs. One green and one blue. In between exclaiming to your dad, “Did you see that? Wait, don’t look, don’t look!” and wrapping napkins around me for warmth, I admired both their stylistic bravery and their imperviousness to cold while fervently hoping you girls never acquire either.
On second thought, a meat packing plant might be warmer.
The reason we had come to Scotland in the first place was for your dad to attend a conference there in Edinburgh. The downside was that he couldn’t spend much time with us over the next few days, but we did get to trade in the tent for an apartment, and you girls got to brush up on British cartoons (which seem to revolve around poo more often than not). I also sucked up my fear of driving on the wrong left side of the road and shuttled you to various playgrounds and bookstores. Oh, the bookstores! Towers of Roald Dahl and buffets of Enid Blyton garnished with tales of Terabithia and Narnia and presented with a smile by pretty shopkeepers who grew up loving “Ballet Shoes” as much as I did. I still haven’t gotten over the injustice of not being allowed to spend the rest of my life there. You girls appreciated the parks much more, though, and I can’t say I blame you. The one closest to our apartment was actually several playgrounds in one sprawling complex of fun. There were zip-lines and bulldozers and rock walls and bicycle-go-rounds and tire swings and fire poles and a hundred other colorful, creative ways to injure yourself. While I navigated the delicate balance between smothering you with attentiveness and letting you break your own necks, you had the time of your lives.
The only shot I managed to take before you ran off in search of something more dangerous.
You also loved our stop at Gorgie City Farm which, true to its name, was a farm nestled in the heart of the city. I thought the appeal of wildlife might have worn off by then, but you were thrilled to hand-deliver snacks to the goats. Of course, half an hour later, we got a stern lecture on how goats should never, ever be fed such a horrible thing as grass and how we were basically the worst people in the world for inflicting it on them. And here I thought goats would eat pretty much anything occupying physical space. Ah well; live and learn. You girls remained unfazed and ran around the vegetable garden pretending to be fairies while the farm lecturer kept a wary eye. (Maybe she was worried you would cast a blight on the tomatoes? I guess we are the worst people in the world and all…) We tried our hand at tractor-driving, paid our respects to the other animals (the turkeys were your favorite, Soph), and survived an attempted mugging by a wily pony named Red. Yes, that makes three attacks by partially domesticated animals in one vacation. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell us something about our future in agriculture?
You girls really had been troopers (ha) considering all the hiking we had subjected you to, and your dad and I wanted to surprise you with a trip to an indoor water park in Inverness. Our intentions were noble and all, but we had completely forgotten to take into account how worn out you would be from said hiking. By the time we pulled into the parking lot, you were miles away in Dreamland, so we just kept driving… and an unexpectedly delightful afternoon was born. Overhead, cloudpuffs tumbled over each other like puppies in a vast field of blue while wildflowers dripping with color rushed past our windows. You girls slept, steeping in loveliness, as we rattled down country roads and I snapped illicit photos of Cawdor Castle.
I had to hop a fence to get this shot, but I figure Shakespeare, not to mention Lady Macbeth, would approve.
You woke up about the time we hit Nairn, so we followed signs for its main beach and pretended it had been our plan all along. It should have been our plan all along. Turquoise highlights sparkled in the Moray Firth around splashing beachgoers while moms in sundresses hosed down sandy babies and chatted. Children dashed around the pirate-themed playground in their flip-flops sliding, swinging, and dripping strawberry ice cream. It was the perfect summer holiday. Never mind that the sparkling water was two degrees removed from an iceberg and that the sundresses were dancing in a ferocious sub-Arctic wind. Just that morning, we had met a family from the Orkney Islands who couldn’t bear to travel any farther south because of the heat. Meanwhile, we—acclimated as we were to sunny southern Europe—were quickly becoming popsicles.
This is what we call a juxtaposition.
However, we weren’t going to let a little thing like potential frostbite stop us from enjoying ourselves. If we could survive a hurricane on the Isle of Skye, by golly, we could survive a beautiful summer afternoon at the playground… with the help of extra undershirts and some hot drinks scored from the ice cream shop. (Bear Grylls would be so proud!) Sophie, you parked yourself in a swing and then graciously offered to let us push you for the next infinity. Natalie, you put the fabulous beach slide to good use, commandeered the pirate ship, and tried more than once to speak Italian to children whose accents you couldn’t understand. (You get that from your mother who has to turn on subtitles for British films and would like to take this opportunity to apologize.) We gave the kites some air time (ha) and then ran pell-mell down the grassy dunes together shrieking with laughter.
We do not hold ourselves responsible for damage incurred on anyone’s eardrums as a result.
Back at the campground, we watched the World Cup with a Dutch man whose wooden shoes enthralled you, especially when they were running circles in celebration of a goal. We washed the dishes alongside a nice Polish lady, and you socialized at the playground with the Orkney kids who had finally donned long-sleeves over their tank tops. We met an American family in the laundry room, and the owners of the campground offered you some Beatrix Potter books to read before bed. Despite being so far from home, we were part of a little international insta-community, and it was lovely having friends to say goodnight to… even if we couldn’t always understand their replies.
Irrelevant anecdote: As you girls were getting ready for bed that night, your dad and I tried to settle a dispute from the previous night in which he had insisted that malted milk tastes like bread (and not in the positive way that Guinness does), while I had maintained that malted milk is reminiscent of Whoppers and thus wonderful. You, Natalie, were the objective arbitrator. I gave you a warm mug of malted milk which you promptly gulped down. Sensing victory, I exclaimed, “Wow, you must really like that!” You wrinkled your nose and replied, “Not really. It just tastes a bit like… hay.” Cue your dad cracking up.
The next morning, we determined to visit Loch Ness. We were already visiting Drumnadrochit (whose economy is solely dependent on the sea monster we knew to be lurking near a castle three hours west), and it shouldn’t have been that difficult to take a stroll along the lakeside, right? Wrong. So very wrong. After searching in vain for some kind of walkway among all the souvenir shops, we popped into the tourist office to ask the easiest path to the water. The couple behind the desk confirmed that we actually did mean on foot and then whispered conspiratorially for a minute. “Well, there is one path,” they finally conceded. “We’re not supposed to tell anyone about it… You have to cross a river… It’s not an official path… Maybe don’t let anyone know we told you…” “Sounds great!” we replied, and we set off on our officially unauthorized adventure.
Boldly going where no tourists have gone before.
We understood pretty quickly why the tourist office had been reluctant to advertise that path. For one thing, it wound in and out of swamps, splitting itself through the thick foliage and reuniting farther ahead when and if it felt like it. For another thing, every horse in Europe had apparently made a pilgrimage to that very trail and each left a sizeable memento underfoot. (We inadvertently made up a catchy hiking song that goes like this: “Whoa, horse poop! Watch out, horse poop! There’s some more horse poop! SO MUCH HORSE POOP!” repeat x infinity.) And then there was the river. It really wasn’t as difficult to cross as we had been led to believe—just a leap, a quick splash, and we were over. We felt pretty proud of ourselves until we got to the actual river.
Warning: bodies of water may be wider than they appear.
Okay, so I’ve already acknowledged that we lack wilderness survival cred. However, I think we deserve some bonus points for finally making it to the lake safe, sound, and [partially] dry. To be honest, Loch Ness didn’t look particularly mysterious or hostile, which was a bit of a disappointment to your story-seeking mother. I guess with Nessie on vacation, the traditional spookiness evaporated leaving a rather ordinary loch. Not that this was such a bad thing though. We picnicked on the shore watching local fisherman putter past, each boat proudly displaying the Scottish flag. We plopped stones in the water and watched the ripples roll smoothly toward the opposite shore catching glints of sunshine along the way. We giggled and explored and at least got to dabble our fingers in the subject of myths.