Friday, March 7, 2008

English Ivy

The twins started a series of classes down at the local nature sanctuary this week, which meant that Max and I were at moderately loose ends for a couple of hours during these classes. What to do? Do we go for a long walk around Bird Lake? Do we go home and work one something together? Do we watch Sheila get groceries/drink a relaxing coffee/check her email? I confess I spent more than a few minutes wrestling with the options and my conscience, I'll have you know. I love having kid-free time and I don't get nearly enough of it. Which is why, even though it did occur to me to ask Max what he might like to do, I polled myself more than once or twice before I could bring myself to ask Max.

When the kids are at activities I have no trouble finding ways to occupy myself, mostly because the stretches of time afforded me are so short. I shouldn't even call them stretches. They are gasps of time. In-breaths, even. They remain a novel moment in my day, if they occur at all. Sometimes, if we are close enough, I whip home and read the distressingly long list of unread email I am accumulating. Other times I meet friends for coffee, catch up on reading, or wander through garden centres. Now that we have a house we're likely to stay in for a few years, and a house with a big yard to boot, the last option is the most popular lately. I'm even developing plant obsessions.

But this time I had Max along for the ride, and I knew it would be hard to wander through a garden center with a mildly resentful 11 year old rolling his eyes at my "Max, look! LEWISIAS! What incredible luck!" no matter how much humour I would be able to buttress his replies with.

Fortunately I didn't have to wrestle too fiercely with my conscience, because something came up in the meantime. Max's Cub troupe. Or rather, Max's Cub troupe leader. She emailed and asked when Max was thinking of finishing with his Purple Star requirements. Not really knowing what she was talking about, I asked Max. He was unable to give me a very distinct answer. He didn't seem terribly interested either. I considered Max. I considered his leader, a very nice woman but totally lacking in irony. I didn't think I would be able to joke about Max's interest levels with her. I considered my 2 hours of free time and saw it dwindling away into the distance. I think I might have sighed, too. Then I sat down with Max. After some discussion, it hit me that Max didn't know how to finish the requirements. I think he was hoping they might magically finish themselves. So we got out the Cub book and I helped him itemize them a bit. The Purple Star, for those of you unfamiliar with Cub activities, is a category that requires a Cub to investigate their native country in various ways: faith, citizenship, culture, technology, etc. To complete his Purple Star, he would have to be able to tick off eleven items from the list in the book. And before you go all "Well, how can that be hard?" on me, let me give you the piece de resistance in this farce chez Greenridge: Canadian history/culture/citizenship is an area in our homeschooling venture that, if it were a plant, would be sitting brown, dusty and dry on some long-neglected shelf. We just don't do it. Okay, now you can tssk tssk at me.

Luckily I saw the volunteer section in the requirements. Max has done a fair bit of volunteer work in his time, and this managed to get through off a surprisingly large portion of the list. It was then that I saw a category with his name all over it: "Participate in a community service project not listed above."And it was then that I had the brilliant idea to volunteer us to do something useful at the nature centre while the twins were in their class. Well, I thought it was a brilliant idea; Max sighed a little but refrained from commenting too extensively. I don't know if he was merely being diplomatic or if he felt the situation was beyond redemption. Poor kid, caught between puberty, a Cub leader, and an enthusiastic mother.

Thus it was that Max called the grounds keeper at the nature centre, explained who he was and what he needed to do, and arranged to meet him while the twins were in their class. So last week, once we'd had breakfast, some of us collected our heavy-duty gardening gloves, some of us collected our backpacks with a snack and a drink, all of us pulled on our rubber boots and all of us trudged off to the nature sanctuary, which is pretty much across the street from our house. It was a beautiful day: not too wet with promises of clearing. Masses of birds flitted after us as we stumped through the trails. The air smelled good. We wended our way over the bridges, the footpaths, and the puddles to the nature house. The twins were chattering with excitement. Max, in the rear, looked thoughtful. It took maybe ten minutes. Willie, the groundskeeper, met us in the nature hut. We settled the twins in their class and Willie showed us around the area we would be working in. Our task for the day: remove ivy. English ivy. An invasive European species, introduced when the Englishmen showed up here with their nostalgia for thatched cottages, holly, and clipped hedgerows. He showed Max what it looked like when it really started to strangle the undergrowth, demonstrated how to remove the roots, and left us to it.

In a way it reminded me of tree-planting: trudging through wet woody growth scrabbling in the ground with soggy gloves and bulky clothing, feeling the distinct need to pee. Not the most fortuitous of tree-planting memories, but they were definitely there, in between the nice bits, when the sun shone through the trees in streamers of glimmering misty light, when the ground smelt damp and sweet, and when the sounds of the hummingbirds buzzing and Canada geese honking reached our ears. I don't know what it reminded Max of, but he teetered between finding it amusing (flinging strings of ivy at me) and boring ("how long do we have to do this?"). And so we spent two hours.

We've been back twice now. I have to confess that the last time I really wanted to ditch it, because it was cold and rainy and I could think of a zillion other things I'd rather be doing, but I felt as though I had to Set An Example (ooh, I can hear my mum fainting) and show Max that we had to honour our agreements, even if they were rather lacking in the Creature Comforts or Desperately Thrilling departments. I might have thrown in a few Well, it's not like I'M getting a Purple Star's but for the most part I tried to manifest a dignified fortitude. Max was more colourful, throwing out a few Ugh's and Yucks and This SUCKS whenever he slipped or got tangled up with the blackberries, but he surprised me by doing it with way less complaint than I expected. I even had a couple of "seems like yesterday that he was 4 and playing with trains and now he's 11 and growing up and when did he get so tall?" moments, as I stared across the pile of ivy at him. Is this what growing up is for us parents? Brief glimpses of the past and the present in one go. They slip away so fast.

Oops, I'm getting all sentimental on me.

No comments: