Monday, November 17, 2014

Sperm & Fish

Yes, those two words DO end up together in this post. Trust me.

A funny thing happened this week. We'd signed up for a homeschool field trip a couple of weeks ago. It was a grades 4-7 trip to see the salmon spawn at a local provincial park. There would be a guide. There would be a film. It sounded fun. It was also a cheap trip - $2 a person - but a week before the trip FDPG and Dominic showed some concern that they were going to be WAY OLDER than everyone else there because they were in grade eight. This tour ended with grade seven, they reminded me severely. GRADE SEVEN. They are in GRADE EIGHT.  Surely I knew this. They expressed way too much incredulity (one was more polite about it than the other, that's for darn sure) at my signing them up for a tour that ended with a grade 7 period. How could I have done that?

Dominic was very firm. He. Would. Not. Attend. He brought up another trip we had attended where they WERE way too old and other the kids WERE all too young and the talk was WAY too juvenile (baby songs might have been sung). They reminded me how wildly embarrassing it was. I agreed, it HAD been embarrassing. I HAD felt bad for them. I HAD promised not to do that again. Solidarity.

I emailed the organizer, who was very nice and tried to find some more participants. No takers. I felt bad so I told the organizer that we would definitely show up, because I really hate it when people don't show up for organized trips and the organizer is left holding the bill. This happens a lot with our homeschool community: it's annoying and frustrating but there it is.

So we show up on the Appointed Day, my two reluctant ball and chains in tow. The organizer was waiting for us in the Nature House. As usual almost everyone else was late. I was standing idly in a corner of the Nature House waiting when I overheard a guide say "so, what songs should I do with the group that's coming?" Songs? I feel the icy grip of disaster grab me. I sidle towards the desk as surreptitiously as possible so I could hear the other guide answer. "Do the Fishy Song," she said, "the arm movements look like this and then you have them jump up and down for the next verse while pretending they are swimming. Then they can sing the final verse with you!"  They all beamed at each other, except for the male guide, who looked at me as though wondering why I was eavesdropping on such Super Secret Technical Information. I smile weakly and moved away.

I decide it would be best not to say anything to the twins about the impending song choices. Or the arm movements. 

Eventually we assemble at the back of the Nature House with our raggle taggle group of homeschoolers. There are tiny little kids chairs to sit in. Some of us sit. Boy, I thought, you sure can tell homeschoolers: one kid was in a medieval knight costume, two wore homespun knitted outfits that looked, well, weird, and the rest looked worryingly feral. Dominic was doing his If I Pretend Hard Enough I Just Might Disappear routine, staring hard at the ceiling. FDPG was making the best of what she clearly thought was a bad situation. She's philosophical that way.

Our guide walks in and sits down with a fish poster. An old, tatty fish poster. It's the Boy Guide, the one who thought I was stealing Nature House Secrets. He has a very soft voice. No one can really hear him. At least, I can't hear anything he's saying, so I decide to sit in one of the chairs right near him. He interprets this as a hostile gesture, I suspect, because he stops talking and looks at me carefully. I smile in what I hope is an extremely benign way. Fortunately he has no choice BUT to go on, so he does.

We sit through a lesson on how salmon spawn. He talks about the eggs, the fish sperm, how the salmon jaw changes while they spawn, how long they live, and so on. He asks the kids to speculate on the size of a fish brain, or how long they live, and stuff like that. He's a super low talker but he is genuinely interested in his topic. There has been no singing thus far, either.

There is, however, as there always is on tours like these, a kid in the group who knows all the answers and isn't shy about belting them out whenever the guide asks a question. He's very self-congratulatory which is even more irritating. At one point he asks the guide if he's wondering how he knows all this stuff. Awkward. His mother stands beside him beaming proudly, utterly oblivious. I can tell that the guide is uneasy but since no one else is even trying to answer any questions, he lets him go for it. If this were a Diary of a Wimpy Kid novel I would expect Bad Things to happen to this kid at break time out behind the Nature House, but because it's a Homeschool Tour nothing does. Well, a few kids start picking their noses but that's about it.

We then troop into the little theatre to see a film to "solidify" our knowledge about salmon. It's a really old film. I probably saw it when I was in school and that was a LONG time ago. I stand at the back and again, can't hear a thing. The film is ancient and grainy and looks as though the colour is leaking out as we're watching it. Everyone peers hard at the blurry images and tries to imagine the "brilliant colours" we're told we're looking at. Nevertheless the kids all listen carefully and quietly, mine included. Factoid Boy is mercifully silent. When it's over we go outside and down to the river to look at the salmon. I remember this part from my school days. We'd go in a school tour and I'd feel sick the entire time, watching the seagulls flocking on the edges, pecking and pecking and shrieking and shrieking, while the poor bloody salmon struggled along. I wonder, not for the first time, why I thought the twins would enjoy a tour like this.

Fortunately our guide is young and enthusiastic. He's also incredibly knowledgeable. He walks along the water's edge and points out various things: early spawners, old spawners, side markings on the fish and what they mean, the places salmon like to spawn in, the places where they likely fight. It's fascinating. Then our guide asks us if we would like to see inside a fish. Factoid Boy shouts out "YES WE WOULD!!!!" So he does. He walks around looking for a freshly dead salmon. There are a lot to choose from. He lays the salmon down in front of us, then drags his foot in the gravel, making a circle around the salmon. "We won't get in this circle," he says, "because this gives the salmon a dignified space." I'm not sure what he's getting at here but we're all willing to go with it, except for one of the nose pickers who interprets this as a request to get INSIDE the circle.

Then the guide gets out his knife and cuts a neat rectangle on the side of the fish. Oh wait, I forgot the good bit: right before he does this (it's a male fish) he starts milking all the sperm (err, milt) out of the fish. In great long creamy spurts. Over and over again. There's tons of milt in this fish. Gallons. It's graphically, wildly, improbably sexual in a strange and disturbing way. All the mothers stiffen. A snort escapes my mouth, causing the guide to look up. In one uneasy instant he realizes what we're all thinking and starts feeling self-conscious. The poor earnest guide, I think. I start laughing. Factoid Boy, not wanting to seem ignorant of ANYTHING scientific, chortles along with me. Fortunately the sperm stream, err, milt stream, ends, so we can all get back to normal. I wonder if anyone is going to light a cigarette then remember that I'm amongst devoted eco-West Coasters and if anyone is going to light anything it'll probably be an e-cigarette (or a joint).

We see the brain of the salmon, we see his kidney, his swim bladder, his heart, and his liver. It's a little graphic at times but everyone is clearly enjoying this part and they all jostle around, trying to respect the Dignified Space without missing too much. The best part is when he popped out the cornea, which looked like a miniature crystal ball, placed it on his palm, and showed it around. When we'd all looked as much as we wanted, he popped it back in, then replaced the organs and slid the flap shut. "For the next guide," he explained, "some of the girls aren't very good cutting open the fish." I wonder what else they don't do.

And that was that. One family had a seagull poop on them, Factoid Boy fell while balancing on a log (while shouting "look at meeeee!"), and FDPG got wet feet trying to ford a river, but all in all it was a remarkably good tour. We even got to meet a 900 year old tree, not to mention watching a dead fish ejaculate. Good times.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pictorial Evidence

This was the first Halloween that I didn't take photos of my kids in their costumes.

Okay, I did take a couple of shots of Eldest Son in his Deadmau5 head (which you would have seen on my Facebook page), but those photos were taken less as a result of it being a Halloween costume than they were because we were all so shocked that it was a) finally finished, b) being worn to - gasp - SCHOOL, and c) it was finally finished.

Sadly, its start in life wasn't great, as you might expect from a craftsman who wasn't interested in anything that required time, effort, or finesse, aka a 14 year old boy. They have Big Dreams, these boys, but the strenuousness of turning those Big Dreams into Cold Hard Reality is often just too much work.

I, being the (sometimes often) grimly realistic mother that I am, was confident that that piece of papier maché would live out its days as a Half-Made Prototype taking up space in the workshop, in someone's closet, on the kitchen table, or on the coffee table.

Then, after being closeted for close to three years, kicked once or twice in a fit of pique, and having way too much money spent on it (not by ME, I hasten to add), it was finally resurrected and completed. I documented the moment with a photo. Then Eldest Son went off to public school, with it on his head. Apparently he wore it all day. I know because he texted me a few photos. One of him with other dressed up highschoolers; one with our university lecturer friend who dresses up as a giant pink bunny each year (and yes, he DOES teach his classes this way). The two of them are standing side by side, one very tall in a very pink furry suit, the other made tall by the giant blue head with its equally giant blue ears. His arms were crossed and his feet stood wide. I could feel the cool burning out of that Deadmau5 head. This kid sure has attitude, I thought. Attitude made bright by the completion of an albatross of a project.

That was probably when I realized that I forgot to take photos of the other two offspring. At that point of course they'd already changed into pajamas, washed the make-up off their faces, and were scoffing candy.

And thus ended another Halloween.