Saturday, January 01, 2005

Just being together

It's winter holiday break at school, and it's that time of year when you hear public-schooling parents bemoan the challenges of having their kids home with them full-time. The weather isn't conducive to a lot of spontaneous outside play, everyone's housebound, the excitement of Christmas has worn off and siblings tend to be at each other's throats, spending so much unstructured time together all of a sudden. Many parents can't wait until school starts again. It's reminded me of how lucky I am to have kids who get plenty of practice being together. Despite the behavioural things I sometimes pull my hair out over, the motivation challenges, the chaos and mess around our home, the occasional spats, despite all that, I have to confess my kids are really good at getting along together and putting up with stuff that just has to be dealt with.

Yesterday we had to pick my mom up at the airport. It's a little secondary airport that plays host to private planes and one commerical 'regional carrier'. It's in a town called Castlegar, but the airport is affectionately (NOT) referred to as Cancelgar. There's no control tower and little to nothing in terms of remote navigation aids, so the pilots need a visual on the airstrip. The airstrip is nestled in a valley along the Columbia River where fog and cloud are the norm in the winter. Suffice it to say that in typical winter weather, cancelled flights are extremely common ... almost a daily occurrence.

So we drove to Castlegar, me and the kids. It takes about an hour and a half. We listened to part of a story CD on the way down and played some MadLibs. Everyone was cheerful. I had a few shopping errands to do, so we'd gone about 45 minutes early. We went to the airport, and waited, only to discover the inevitable: the plane hadn't been able to land, and was diverted to a "nearby" airport five hours' drive away. Passengers would be bused in. With a three-hour round-trip to get home and back, we decided to just stay in Castlegar. The wait ended up being 7 hours rather than 5 because they waited to collect passengers from the next flight which was also not able to land.

So there we were, myself and my kids (almost-11, 8, 6 and almost-2), homebodies all, stuck in a town of 8,000 on a New Year's Eve with nothing to do for 7 hours, and driving and errands on each end that would stretch the trip to 11 hours. We had 30 more minutes on our story tape and some more MadLibs and that was it. What to do? No malls, no indoor playplaces, the pool open for 2 hours yet but none of us with swim suits, no museums or galleries open, not even a bookstore to browse in.We went to the library and spent 2 hours chatting and browsing and reading aloud and to ourselves until it closed early for NYE. We did our grocery shopping and some for my mom too to restock her fridge before the weekend just before the grocery store closed (early for NYE). We tried to have a nice sit-down pizza dinner or similar, but everything was reserved. So we went to McD's and had veggie melts and lingered until it closed (early, of course). Everywhere we went people smiled at the kids because they seemed so content and nicely-behaved, and I kept thinking "If you knew this was in the midst of an 11-hour-long errand, you'd really be impressed!" And then we took a short walk in the cold and dark, and then a drive, where we warmed up and listened to the rest of our story. And we talked while Fiona napped, and played guessing games and name games and geography games and the like. And finally we went back to the airport, which was almost empty, and the kids played with Fiona and chatted and finally the bus came in and so we scooped my mom up and drove back home.

Eleven hours that just simply had to be endured. And they were so delightful and understanding and accommodating and pleasant.

I felt so lucky.

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