Paul, Ben and I went on an adventure to “The Best Place on Earth”™ a couple weeks ago. We flew into Victoria, stayed a day there, and then ferried it over to the mainland to visit all our friends and relations in Vancouver. Of which we have many. (Well, I have many. Paul has many by marriage.)
First of all, I love Vancouver. I especially love visiting my friends there. And on this trip, I had promised one tiny boy a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium with his Aunt Naf. Naf and I had been planning to spend the day together with my boys for months, and eventually, I decided we would start by meeting at the Aquarium. So, at 11am on a drizzly Monday, I found myself navigating Stanley Park in my mother’s Jeep Liberty, trying desperately to remember how to get to the Aquarium. I haven’t been there since I took my Brownie troop for a sleepover in 2004, after all, and Stanley Park is awfully big – and full of one way roads. But I found the aquarium, found a parking spot, and hopped out with the boys to find a slimmer-than-I-remembered Cool Aunt Nafeesa at the front door. Ben looked a LITTLE puzzled at first, but he warmed up to Naf the second they got to the Tropical Tank, full of sharks and turtles.
Maybe I should add, Ben has seen Finding Nemo about fifteen times, and he loves the sharks and turtles. “Fish friends, NO food!” he tells us. Or, when he sees a turtle, he yells, “Turkle! Whoa, dude!” Immediately, this tank was a big hit. Ben happily stayed there staring at the animals while Naf pointed at them. By the time he was done, he remembered how much he loved Aunt Naf.
Then we went on upstairs, and out into the drizzle. Maybe I should add that, for a drizzly Monday, the aquarium was PACKED. It was a challenge to find a dry place to eat our picnic lunch – a mess of Whole Foods products I’d picked up at Capers before heading to the aquarium. But we did find a spot, and as we were eating, Ben started pointing – at raccoons. Raccoons may not be the sort of animal you usually find in an aquarium, but these guys apparently were teenager raccoons who had lost their mother at a young age, and grown up on the garbage around the aquarium. Ben was fascinated by them, and kept pointing in between bites of hummus. Toddlers are easily amused. Maybe next time I should just take him to a park to watch garbage-eating animals like raccoons, and coyotes.
The Vancouver Aquarium is one of the biggest on the continent, and it has an amazing array of displays and marine life. Of course, the big hits are always the marina mammals: the dolphins, the whales, and the furry guys. There is no orca any more, since the aquarium wouldn’t replace the former orca when it passed away. But there are dolphins who were injured, and unable to return to the wild, who did a show of leaps and splashes and “walking” on their tails. And there is an adorable sea otter. And, Ben’s surprising favorite, Beluga whales. I didn’t expect Ben to be so into those whales, but he LOVES the belugas. He watched them for the better part of twenty minutes, pointing and saying, “coming back!” when a beluga came back from swimming away. There was a mama beluga, and a baby beluga, and Ben just adored them. Naf bought him a copy of “Baby Beluga” and a stuffed beluga to commemorate his first visit to those whales. I knew he loved orcas – but belugas?
We also acquired another aunt at the Aquarium: Aunt Rachel! Rachel is one of Paul’s oldest friends, who now lives in Washington State. She took the train up, and got through Customs just in time to meet us for the dolphin shows at the Aquarium. Rachel also hasn’t seen Ben since he was Very Wee (I think he was only four or five months old), so seeing this tiny boy was a surprise to her. But she got to see him rampage through the Aquarium for a couple hours, until we finally decided it was time to pack it up and go take a nap in our hotel room. Which, this trip, was back up on UBC campus, in one of the West Coast suites: rooms that are given to visiting academics or conference attendees, and which are let out as hotel rooms when not needed for University business. Rachel ended up staying on campus too; since her next train wasn’t until the next day, we found that she could stay in a hostel type room (read: ununsed dorm single) for the night for around $30. I should add, when I suggested staying at UBC, Paul gave me the same Look that he gave me when I made jokes about Arts County Wedding. It’s not so much disapproving as it is to convey that he is less than enthused with my apparent need to re-live college. But the UBC suites, at $200 or so, are actually a good deal for Vancouver, and Paul agreed with that. (With Ben, if we want to sleep, he needs to be in a different room from us.)
Naf rejoined us at UBC, and while Paul put Ben down for his nap, the three of us girls sat around talking about…weddings. Nafeesa is marrying her long-term boyfriend Chris on 9/10/11 (actually, wait, Naf – is that September or October next year? You guys write your dates differently than I do now). Of course, being Nafeesa, she’s already got the wedding mostly planned. There’s legwork to be done, and details to be ironed out, but she’ll have it organized and project managed. Since she is brown, and has to have a wedding with lots of extended relatives, she needs more advance planning than I did. Rachel and I both planned our own weddings (although Naf ran my wedding on day-of), and Naf was far ahead of where we would have been even a couple months before. Rachel’s wedding was in a historic theater in Jacksonville, Florida, by the way, and mine was here in L.A. at the River Center, but neither of ours was a BIG wedding. For which we were both grateful at the time.
After my tired toddler woke up, we went for a walk to check Rachel into her room. Of course, it was in Place Vanier, a ten minute walk from Gage, so the five of us had an opportunity to walk across UBC campus. Walking through UBC is a bit strange for me now: I see the new campus, with the new library and the new condo buildings, and it’s mentially superimposed on the old campus as I knew it over the years. Parts of it are still the same waterlogged, mossy buildings I was used to, but some things have moved, or been re-built, or changed in some other way. Still, when Naf said, “I love visiting UBC. It’s like coming home,” I agreed. I have so many happy memories of UBC campus. My last semester (spring, 2003), was just, well, awesome. But I wandered that campus for years, as my home village, as the place where I and some of my dearest friends lived. I was part of the campus culture. And it is like an old home. Being back at UBC – and back in Vancouver – makes me very calm.
We eventually wandered back to our rooms, and prepared to go meet the gang for dinner. When I say, “the gang”, I mean a whole crew of AUS alumni whom I went to school with. One by one, they arrived at the all you can eat sushi place we’d chosen for dinner. My ties to my friends in Vancouver aren’t as strong as they used to be though, and it’s difficult to face that sometimes. I’m not part of their lives any more, as they are not part of mine in L.A….and also, I’m coming back with a husband and baby. My life is totally different now than it was when I left, and it’s different than the lives of many of my college friends. Everyone has grown up, everyone has careers and plans and lives of their own. But I will always be able to visit my friends, and hear them tell stories and laugh for an evening. Also, all you can eat sushi is highly entertaining with that crew. One of the guys just takes charge and goes through the menu, auction-style, with commentary. It’s hard to explain, but hilarious at the time.
We were able to all catch up a bit for a couple hours, reminisce about Hilarious Drinking Episodes, and still wrap up dinner just after 8pm. At which point, I took my little extended family back to UBC to sleep. We dropped Rachel off at Vanier, causing me to have to try to remember the car-compatible routes through a pedestrian campus. And then we built Ben a little nest out of the sofa bed mattress on the floor, and went to sleep for the night, exhausted.
Tuesday, I had plans with Sharolyn to see her two babies. Amazing that both of us became moms so quickly, but neither of us had been able to see each others’ children yet. Shar’s eldest, Izzy (Isabeau) is three months younger than Ben…and her youngest, Corbin, is almost exactly a year younger than his sister. It’s kind of mind-twisting to think that Shar and I have a decade-old friendship, and in that time, have gone from Sex & The City to…being grown-ups. There we were, with her two babies, and my baby and husband, having a brunch in a restaurant full of other bohemian moms. Because so much of my grown-up life has happened in L.A., it’s strange to go back to Vancouver and see that grown-up life also happened to other people when I wasn’t looking.
Since there were multiple kids involved, Shar suggested the Little Nest, on Commercial Drive. This was THE MOST GENUIS ESTABLISHMENT I HAVE EVER SEEN, featuring a children’s play area in the middle for toddler-sized kids. You go in, order your delicious bistro-type food, and have it brought to you while you distract your kids with new-to-them stuff. You can actually CARRY ON A CONVERSATION without being distracted by a toddler. Corbin was too small to play, but he was such a laid-back baby that Shar and I could actually talk (about our children, of course). And I was proud of Ben. He was nice to both of Shar’s kids, even though Corbin was “a baby”, and Izzy was a bit shy. Ben himself can be a bit shy, but give him some time, and he warms up. Especially where the ladies are concerned. When we took the kids to the park across the street, Ben even asked Izzy if she wanted to go on the slide with him. Maybe we can set them up when they’re older.
After brunch, and after the park, it was time for us to roll out to Richmond. I have extended family on my English side there: two of my father’s three brothers, and their wives, are still in the same neighborhood in that suburb. My Uncle Reg is also the brother who was closest, in age and in emotion, to my father. Ben will never know his granddad, but I do want him to know my father’s family. So we visited my uncles and aunts for the afternoon. My Aunt Eileen even found a box of toys that had belonged to her son David, who kept picking things up and remarking, “Wait, Mum, you saved these?” David is older than I am by over a decade, dating his toys to the early 70s. My aunt had also brought out a tub filled with ceramic animals that my grandmother (my father’s mother) had collected out of Red Rose tea boxes. And as Ben happily sat there and played on the floor, occasionally holding up a ceramic animal and informing us what he thought it was (hedgehog=”Armadillo!”) my relatives remarked on how good his hand-eye coordination was, and how smart he was. They all have grandchildren of their own, of course, but those babies are grown-up now. I was thrilled they were so taken with my own son, and that, in turn, Ben somehow recognized them as being family, and wasn’t too overwhelmed. Ben seems to know “his people”, as Paul puts it, and he loves getting all the attention from his great-aunts and great-uncles.
I also really enjoyed visiting with my British relatives. It does a lot of good to just be with family, and I find being with my soft-spoken English relatives to be comforting. I’m having the opportunity to kind of re-discover my extended family now that I’m a grown-up as well, and to have them meet my husband and son. And, I hope, as Ben gets older, he will appreciate this branch of his family as well. It may already be in his genetics anyways, since he’s extraordinarily fond of The Wind in the Willows, and Thomas the Tank Engine. (Thomas prompted a lively discussion about train culture in the UK among my uncles, who apparently had caught the show recently on TV.)
We hit a small hurdle on the way home, called Sasquatch. Not a Sasquatch. But the festival, Sasquatch. The 5pm ferry was completely booked, and we had to wait for a 7pm sailing. I hadn’t expected the 5pm on a Tuesday to be full, and immediately started kicking myself for not making a reservation. But while Paul and I were waiting in line, he noticed a lot of modern-day hippies playing hacky-sack. As in, more than one group. At first, I saw a carload or two and figured, OK, kids heading for Tofino. Then we realized that the terminal parking area was FILLED with car loads of kids wearing hemp tops or Cowichan sweaters, crammed in older cars and vans, and we realized – we had been delayed by Sasquatch. Damn hippies.
Everything worked out OK though. We got on the boat, picked up dinner for Ben in the cafeteria, and then went up to the play area. Eventually, we got home to Oak Bay, with a sleepy toddler – and dreadful head colds. Oh well. It was still a successful trip. It was still a wonderful trip. And, as my tiny boy gets bigger, I can’t wait to take him, more and more, to visit the places I still call, “home”.