This came before the week I spent with my mother: my grandsons came to stay with us in Ottawa during their school holidays.
The family arrived on time on August 17th, after a 7 hour flight. Thomas (5) fell asleep in the car and when his parents carried him into the house, stayed asleep on the settee while the rest of us ate our supper; then he was carried downstairs to bed, still not waking. Alexander (9) was still very lively, eyes wide open. He told us he was having a 30 hour day and promised to look after his brother when they woke up in strange surroundings in their basement beds the next morning.
On their first full day in Ottawa, the boys were up at 4am, cornflakes (that I’d left for them on the table, anticipating this) at 4:30am. That morning we had an exciting visit from a chipmunk in the garden. Before the sun was very high in the sky, they had been to the local playground in Bordeleau Park, also to the nearby tennis courts with balls and raquets. Back at the house, they played the piano while their grandparents picked up the minivan we were going to use. We all piled into the minivan with swimming gear and a frisbie to visit Britannia beach. We shared an outdoor lunch there with some wasps, after which the boys swam in the river for a long time with their Grandma and Mum. Then we walked to another beach. Home again via the Byward market for giant icecreams. After shopping for provisions in the market, we grandparents both fell asleep from exhaustion. When he woke up Granddad took Alex to the Flying Club, playing on the flight simulator while I prepared supper.
“How are we going to keep this up?” I wondered.
Day 2 didn't begin quite so early. I drove us all in the minivan to Chelsea where we stroked and admired the stuffed beavers etc. at the Gatineau Park Visitors' Centre, and saw the beaver dam in the stream there. Then I drove on into the hills so that we could climb King Mountain, the boys bounding up and down the steep, rocky steps. They also climbed on the rocks beside the trail, we all sat a while at the lookout point above the Ottawa valley, and showed their parents the trig point. Back in Chelsea, the Cat Café was a big disappointment since children under 10 weren't allowed into the room that housed the cats; Granddad couldn't find a sandwich without cheese there, either. So we drove home for lunch. In the afternoon, while Emma and I went out shopping, Granddad took both boys and their dad for Thomas' first flight in The Little Aeroplane, including a touch-and-go at Gatineau (Alexander being allowed to take the controls from time to time). On the way home Granddad bought a Smores-making kit and volunteered to be chef-in-chief for this part of supper, with two keen assistants. Thomas also helped Grandma cut the vegetables and set the table. After supper -- poetry for supper as well as food -- it was time for some music making, with Grandma at the piano.
Later in the week Thomas, having taken this in, frequently sat at the piano, pretending to read the music. He even got someone to turn the pages for him. Having watched their Grandparents singing together, they gave a performance of their own. Thomas wrote the words and improvised the music for the world-première of I Can See The Dragon, But You Can’t, standing up very straight and chanting the song from the music stand just as his granddad does. The sheet music was illustrated with a carefully coloured picture of the dragon. Alexander accompanied him at the piano, incorporating a glissando, such as I’d demonstrated earlier. My daughter had the presence of mind to capture this on video.
Day 3: In the morning we walked (or ran, depending on our ages) from the Rockcliffe Park lookout to Rideau Hall where they were just in the process of changing the guard. Rideau Hall has a row of the Canadian flags, a sentry box for children, a playground and a totem pole. In the afternoon, so that the boys wouldn’t get bored (!) I suggested that they decorate our doorstep with chalks, which they did with enthusiasm. In the evening we joined the crowds at the Festival of Light in New Edinburgh Park, followed by the finale of the Sound of Light fireworks: we saw them reflected in the Rideau River.
Day 4 was a wet day, so we mostly stayed at home, but in a break between showers the grandsons got to take turns steering the Aqua-Taxi across the Ottawa River and back. Alex wore the Captain's hat.
The next four days were spent in Quebec on a trip to the Laurentians, staying at a cottage on Fiddler Lake, about half way between Lachute and St. Sauveur. On the way we stopped at the dramatic Chutes de Plaisance, fortuitously full of water after the heavy showers the day before, and the Omega Park. Foxes and baby deer were on view outside the visitors’ centre, and from the safari ride by car, at close quarters, we saw wapitis, wild pigs, fallow deer, elk and a moose. Further on were wolves (grey, arctic), coyotes, bison and eventually, an enormous thrill for Thomas: black bears.
Our stay at the cottage –– I'd won our access to it at a silent auction in May –– proved a great success, every one of us benefitting from the tranquility there. Blue jays, chickadees and squirrels kept coming to the bird feeders on the verandah, and Emma and I enjoyed an early morning view from the cottage dock, on Tuesday morning, of a lake so still that it perfectly mirrored the trees in the misty sunrise, before the rest of the family got up. Then the fun started. Alexander proved to be a masterful kayak paddler and Chris took Thomas for a ride in the canoe. When his parents had a go at the canoeing Alex was contemptuous of their ineptitude!
We lunched at Mickie's in Morin Heights, then drove on, to look inside the Catholic church at St. Sauveur, the boys surprisingly interested in the stations of the cross around its nave. The main attraction in St. Sauveur, though, was the Aqua-Park on the skislopes, Alex and his mum immediately buying rides on the "Dragon" zipline. The Viking ride (Alex alone) turned out to be even more "epic" than the Dragon ride; during our car ride back to the cottage he described every turn. "I was petrified!" said Chris, who had taken the next cart in line, with Thomas. The following day we returned to this crowded, but exciting place, Alex trying out the water chutes with his mum, as well as the “Sonic” and “Red Baron” rides.
We adults seemed to prefer the lake where our cottage was, Thomas swimming by himself in it at one point (wearing a buoyancy jacket).
On the day we returned to Ottawa, we visited the Carillon Dam on the way, and toured the hydro power station there, wearing helmets, headphones and goggles. Then crossed on the ferry to Pointe Fortune, on the other side of the Ottawa River, still (just) within Quebec.
More excitement to follow: a day at the Museum of Canadian History, followed by a morning at the Aviation and Space Museum and then a memorable "bombing run," throwing flour bombs out of Granddad's aeroplane. It was too hot for the boys to stay in the tent we’d erected beside the plane. Pilot, bombadier and crew did the bombing run and spot landing with the side door removed! Thomas, thrilled to wear a headset like the others, sat in the back with his mum, wearing headphones and feeling the wind in his hair. Alexander was the bomber; their crew came third in the Rockcliffe Flying Club contest.
On Monday, the National Art Gallery proved to be more popular with my grandsons than we'd expected. We were answering their questions in there for a good two hours. That evening, I was very touched when Thomas came and joined in with a soft obligato to Schubert's An den Mond (Geuss, lieber Mond, geuss deine Silberflimmer ...) while I was singing and playing it to his mother. I think he liked the vibrations. This happened to be the first song I ever sang solo in a concert ... when I was 12, with my dad accompanying.
We walked to the Rideau Falls that evening, to gaze at the sunset, the rowing boats and sunset cruise boat on the Ottawa River.
Tuesday, Emma and I had a lovely time to ourselves, driving to Wakefield, Chelsea and a beach at Lake Meech for a swim, while the men of the family went on a trip to Morrisburg. "And what did you do?" I asked Thomas, once we were all back at the house. "We flied again!" he told me, and his brother was excited to add that they nearly flew across the border into the USA (before landing for lunch at the Upper Canada Village). That evening we had fish fingers, waffles, strawberries and a singing bowl for supper.
The next day we all went back to the beach at Lake Meech for another swim, and it was hard to stop the boys making water channels in the sand before we repaired to lunch at Biscotti's, Chelsea, but there was fun to be had there too, the boys climbing in and out of the windows at the crazy house in its garden. That afternoon, in very hot weather, we walked the Pink Lake trail with all its steps, green water and shards of mica, then had supper at Tucker's Marketplace this evening ("I had five puddings and one dinner!" said Thomas) and watched the busker with the big hoop (who danced with me, briefly, to everyone's great amusement or embarrassment), before keeping the children up for the Northern Lights show on Parliament Hill. We were all late to bed, Alex incensed by the patriotic message of the light show; in his opinion, England was the best nation in the world, not Canada.
On Thursday September 1st, they had to leave us to fly back to London. That was a sad day.