Felt Tip Numbers

People have been stopping me in the street lately, asking me if I didn’t blog about the Triathlon I did a few years ago because I never made it past the Finish line and couldn’t take the cybershame.  It’s a fair question, especially since the only thing my mum repeatedly asked me about the whole event was, “Will there be ambulances there?”  The truth of the matter is that ever since making it across the finish line of the triathlon, I have been studiously lazy.  I’ve been lounging, safe in the knowledge that with two labours and a triathlon under my belt, I never have to exercise again, or even think about the experience.

I can now reveal that my triathlon story begins 48 hours before the race, with an unexpectedly professional phone call from my sister. She runs marathons in England and wears jeans that wouldn’t fit past my ankles.

“Right, what are you eating?” she opened with, before I could get a hello in, a question which implied she’d had some kind of British futuristic video messaging app installed her end to which Canadians didn’t yet have access.

“What?” I replied, playing for time, and trying to sound like I wasn’t chewing.

“Everything you eat from now until the race has to include carbs,” she said, with an air of Jillian Michaels that I found exciting. “You have to carb load.”

I promised to do just that at every opportunity for the next two days, only to find out that I already carb load round the clock anyway.  My diet didn’t change one iota.  Jillian Michaels will have a field day when she finds that out.

When I showed up to the pre-race meeting to listen to an hour’s worth of course information and event rules, I felt like I’d wandered into the Olympic Village without a security pass, but nobody had noticed yet.  I felt like that, I should say, until I glanced to my right during the speeches, and saw my neighbour.  She was staring the course organiser right in the eye, listening intently, as she shovelled handful after handful of Miss Vickie’s chips into her mouth.  It was an hour-long production line – she never faltered – and the chip packet she’d brought along for the meeting was the size of a small sleeping bag.  I absolutely loved sitting next to her: she was so confidently non-triathletey. Whether or not she was taking carb loading to a whole new level, there was something very calming about sitting next to that woman.

My calm didn’t last.  By 6am on race day my adrenalin was flowing like a fast-paced river.  That might account for why I managed to swim like a rocket in the first leg: I think it was nerves.  I took off at a cracking pace, which is an interesting decision when you can’t see anything.  On lap one I swam right up onto the stomach of a large lady doing a slow backstroke.  I was like a seal, beaching.

Having made it out of the water, I ran far too fast up the beach and into the transition zone, where I grappled for about 15 minutes with clothes that wouldn’t go onto wet skin, all the while breathing like a vacuum cleaner.  I definitely used up vital glycaemic stores trying to get my sports bra to unroll out of its tight, wet line of cloth and get into position, so that I could actually consider getting onto my bike.  I also remember being gutted that my felt tip number on my arm had rubbed off on my wetsuit – I only entered the triathlon to get the felt tip numbers.  I would later draw it on again in a black felt-tip from Scotty’s colouring bag.

I had a good lead on the pack after my uncharacteristically dynamite swim, a lead I held onto for about seven minutes until 55 people overtook me on their bikes.  The only person I managed to pass on the bike leg had a puncture and was pushing the bicycle home.  As the 38th person blazed past me with a demoralisingly cheery, “On your left!”, I started to check for rocket fuel coming off the back of them because seriously, my car doesn’t go the speed of most of those cyclists.

There was a moment of horror for me when I jumped off my bike and began running, where I realized that actually my legs weren’t moving, only my arms were.  My calf muscles were cramping up, and I had to keep stopping near bins to stretch my feet upwards against them.  They were the kind of stretches that meant I had to put my face almost into the bin while I took big, deep breaths.  That didn’t help.  As I rounded the corner towards Safeway, I was overtaken by a family of four taking their Yorkshire terrier for a gentle stroll. The father glanced back, probably to double check that I actually had a number on my chest and was a registered racer. He stumbled a little, confused. Meanwhile, my own family were loyally cheering me on from the bridge, and must have seen me coming 15 minutes before I actually reached them.  I’m pretty sure neither of my children have watched The Walking Dead yet, but I think the sight of me lurching towards them, gritting my teeth, my hair plastered to my face, might have been quite the preview.  As I passed my son, he stuck his little hand out for a high five which caused me to do a massive sheep-bray-sob-heave, which I’m really thankful the photographer didn’t capture.  From that point, though, I have to say I rallied, and I finished the race looking deceptively at ease.  And that, after all, is the main thing.

The day after the triathlon I went wakeboarding.  Didn’t everyone?  I’ve never been wakeboarding before, but apparently I am Olympic and not a day past 19, so being pulled at 500,000 horsepower, face-down, holding a rope shouldn’t really be a problem.  The day after the wakeboarding, I found I couldn’t walk, and that lasted for seven days.   From triathlon to unable to move in 24 hours.  Who else of my felt-tipped brethren can say they did that?  See, I knew I was a record-breaker.


It’s amazing how peer group pressure still exists at the age of 43. You’d think you’d have confidence in your own strong opinions by now, and easily be able to turn down offers to do ill-advised things. But, no. Apparently when it comes to those continuous surf-wave machines, with the fierce, constant swell – such as can be found in the Kelowna H2O Centre – I can still be talked into giving it a go.

The Kelowna flo-rider is basically a raging hill of water, on which you must balance on a smaller-than-average skateboard, whilst a crowd of what appear to be mostly men stare at you in your swimwear. It’s set up in the most focal part of the water centre, of course, because it has such a high failure percentage and everyone loves to watch a person face-plant into shallow water. The first time my husband, Charlie, tried it, he fell so hard the windows of the water park shook and all the people on the slides did an impromptu bounce. As soon as you fall down on this thing, the water hoovers you up and sweeps you fast over the top of the hill, out of view. You’re done; the crowd waits for a new contestant, like it’s some kind of post-modern gladiatorial gameshow.

Some exits are graceful but most are not. As I sat and waited for my turn, my anxiety grew exponentially with every crashing exit. I watched the Exit By Crocodile Deathroll, the Exit As If Being Sucked Backwards Out of A Hole In a Plane (with the facial expression to match), and my personal favourite, the Exit Minus Prior Swimwear. That one happened to a 13 year old boy who was swept backwards with his shorts stuck fast to the lower section of his thighs, exposing everything above. His exit was particularly panicked, because claw as he might at his short fabric, it was not to be shifted upwards. The crowd loved that one.

I don’t know why I felt I had to step up there, given the humiliation rate, and the fact that I had just witnessed somebody losing his shorts. I think it was a blend of needing to delude my children into thinking they had a young, cool mum, coupled with an outright desperation to outperform Charlie in all things. This need to beat him is manageable in ping-pong, but I need to start to draw the line at things that require a signed waiver.

I can tell you that against all odds, I did manage to stay upright, thus avoiding the hoped-for slam and sweep. Charlie looked visibly disappointed. I like to think the spectators cheered and clapped. Or that might have been me. I was exhausted though, and two clear learning points stayed with me after the event: a) half-squatting in wet swimwear in front of a crowd does nothing for your post-baby pouch-wobble awareness levels; and b) whether you fall or not, you will still need help getting out of a chair come Wednesday.

The FloRider is free to use, but it’ll cost you a fortune in physical therapy. It’s been eight days since I stood triumphantly on the crest of that FloRider wave, my thigh fat jiggling proudly. I have spent four of those days all but in traction, and the remaining four journeying from Physio to Accupuncturist to Massage Therapist, in the hope that I will be able to turn my head in the slightest of directions again one day.

Such intense terror cannot be tolerated by my muscles these days, it seems. My shoulders and neck say no. They say stop it, you’re middle aged, behave yourself. It’s upsetting, because in my mind’s eye I still had a shot at that professional surfer lifestyle. But on the plus side, I am under strict instructions to never ride that thing again, which is both a blessed relief and a guarantee that my status as a FloRider Pro can never be revoked. That’s so worth the pain.

Dental Hygienists Need Telling

I’ve never met a nice dental hygienist.  By definition, anybody who chooses a career in scraping chalkily with a sharpened stick has a mean streak.  It’s the manic determination to ignore universally-understood pain noises that separates dental hygienists from every other health professional in the field.  Even doctors pause when you say ‘ow’.  Not dental hygienists; they go right on jabbing at the softest, shyest parts of you – parts that were living quietly, out of harm’s way.  Mouths aren’t like ears or noses – they’re not wind-blasted and sun-burned and used to rough living.  Every time that needle-shaped probe is rammed into my quivering-pink soft tissue with a relish that is, frankly, worrying, I’m told my gums are receding.  Well, they weren’t until I sat down.  All of me would recede if I weren’t pinned in this chair by your vice-like elbows.  During my latest visit, I think it would have hurt less if the woman had pulled my teeth out with pliers, as if each molar were a plastic chunk of a Rubix cube tugged out in frustration because the puzzle wasn’t working. She could have scrubbed each tooth on her tray with a wire brush, then jammed the shiny nubs back into my bleeding sockets.  For 48 hours after the appointment, it felt like she’d done that anyway, so what’s the difference?  At least that way, I wouldn’t have to watch her mad, gleaming eyes as she worked weirdly close to my face.

It’s not just physical pain you have to endure on a much-loved trip to the dental hygienist.  There will also be a patronising demonstration on how to hold a small piece of waxy string, delivered with intermittent and loud sighing because that’s pathetic, you’re doing it wrong.  Hygienists are obsessed with flossing: they talk of nothing else.  During the lecture on lax self-discipline, I wondered how the hygienist thought she knew me so well, and whether there was a class they all take in Dental College on being this arrogant about their impossible standards.  These are your obsessions, not mine, I would have said, had my teeth still been attached to anything.  Enough about you.  Let’s talk about what I know for a minute. 

Let’s talk about apostrophes: a much better obsession.  I’m constantly walking down the street itching to correct people’s signs in shop windows.  But I don’t do it, because I know it’s rude and also, crazy.  Next time I visit the hygienist, though, I’m taking an apostrophes test with me.  10 questions, let’s go.  If she gets less than 60%, I’m going to tut in her face from a distance of four inches and then broadcast to the entire dental surgery her poor attention to detail.  What disappointing negligence. 

One day I will meet a dental hygienist who considers a gum to be connected to a nerve, who won’t spend an hour talking to me like I’m 12, and who might allow the possibility that people’s priorities differ.  One day.  This last one finished her tutorial on pain and her own superiority by saying, “I hope you’ve found me inspiring today.”  Clearly she needs to spend less time flossing and more time working on her intuition levels.

The Man Who Needed a Private Jet

Travelling on a long haul flight on your own with two toddlers is something to be avoided if at all possible.  For me, the stress is divided equally between the two main stages of the journey.  In Stage One, The Airport, the kids run away at top speed through the departure lounge, tripping up humourless businessmen or disappearing into lifts with the doors closing.  Stage Two, The Aeroplane, is 9 hours of complete confinement where The Naughty Spot becomes noticeably absent and air stewardesses who clearly don’t have children talk of nothing but air turbulence and the lack of seatbelt wearing.

I don’t know if it’s just because I’m their mother, but it is my strong opinion that actually my children behave quite well on aeroplanes.  I’m edgier than most when it comes to strangers viewing my – or their – every move, so I think if I’m feeling relaxed about what the kids and I are doing, it really must be going ok.  On this flight, we hadn’t yet taken off and were all looking out of the window, when the man in front of my son, Bill, turned around to tell me his seat was being kicked. I frowned more than replied, because both of Bill’s legs were on the floor, but I knew right then, five minutes into sitting down, that we were in for it.

Apart from the five or six times an hour he turned around to complain about absolutely nothing with increasing nastiness, I could really only see the top of this man’s head.  It was entirely cuboid, with thick hair on top of it that looked spongy, like a cake.  He reminded me of Simon Cowell, only more sarcastic.  Bill would press his touch-screen TV, which by definition needed touching, and Simon Cowell would instantly pop up over his seat like a perfectly square, burning piece of toast and say plaintively, “Buddyyyyyyyy?”  while we all stared blankly at him.  If Bill grazed the man’s seat with his toe because, horror of horrors, he needed to shift an inch in his seat after sitting still for four hours, Simon was there, with a gritted smile, saying, “You gotta take it easy on me, maaaaaan!”  I think if I’d brought a potted plant onto the plane with me and placed it in the chair for nine hours, it would still have been too much movement for Simon.

I explained to my son, when Simon was in the bathroom, that actually he was being really good, he just had Mr Fussy in front of him.  Bill nodded quietly and then bellowed upon the man’s return, “Mummy!  Mr Fussy’s back!”  It didn’t help.  Mr Cowell took it up a notch, actually punching the back of the chair, then yelling at the cabin crew about the quality of scones the airline served and the length of time he was expected to sit in a seat, especially (with a gesture backwards at my mildly-mannered then four- year old) ‘in front of THIS’.  Had I been a braver, more confrontational adult, or had I been my husband, I would have suggested he get off the flight right now, and neglected to hand him a life jacket.

By the time we landed I had a banging headache and was twitching every time either Bill or my daughter, Scotty, moved a toe.  When the pilot announced that there was a slight delay because the doors of the plane were frozen shut, and they were just trying to get a heater of some kind, I think I saw Simon Cowell patting his pockets down, looking for a lighter.  I am happy in the thought that I will never, ever sit near that man again.  For the next flight over, as a pre-emptive strike, I’m making t-shirts for the kids.  Bill’s will read, Welcome to Public Transport.  Scotty’s will read, My mum travelled with other people’s kids for years.  Your turn.

Dog-Tail Monopoly

We play Monopoly as a family occasionally, most often on Sundays, when we want to get into bitter, dark arguments with each other than will carry us on a tide of hatred into at least the following Thursday. But we play on a coffee table in front of the fireplace, and from time to time our dog will wander by with his tail at perfect hotel-sweeping height, wafting every single thing we’ve taken hours to fight for and build onto the hard wooden floor, or into the upturned box lid.

Last time this happened, as my son scrabbled under the table, recovering his dynasty, I stared at my husband and realized that this, microcosmically, is how we’ve lived for the past 15 years. The constant dismantle and rebuild, I mean. Since meeting in 2001, we’ve emigrated twice and set ourselves up in three different towns, only to sweep the board clean.

He and I moved to Australia together in 2001, where we built a life on the east coast in a little surf town. We got married after three years there, invited 80 people to our wedding, and left two weeks after. Strange decision? We’ll be fine! We can always pick up the pieces from the floor.

We drove across the Nullarbor plain, which is a straight road to Western Australia that doesn’t curve for four days. It’s peppered by dead kangaroos, where the road trains have mown on through; the carcasses and how they’ve petrified are the new things to look at in a never-changing backdrop. We settled in Fremantle and got jobs there, rebuilt, lived happily for two years until we had our son and spiralled into a continuous shallow-breathing panic attack at having our closest relative 23 hours away by aeroplane, when neither of us knew how to apply diapers. (To our son, not each other, although in those weeks it was honestly a toss-up.)

So we left Australia altogether and moved to Canada, where my husband is from. Monopoly Sweep Three within the space of six years. And here we’ve stayed, perhaps pinioned by the stabilizing forces of our children, which is a good thing, on days when I don’t miss road trips even if they don’t curve. Playing Real Life Dog-Tail Monopoly means, for me, that my current friends, with whom I share the daily details, have no knowledge whatsoever of me on any day that existed before 2007. And I know nothing of their past days either. You can tell each other, of course, but it’s not like living it together. It’s like watching it on a cheap-flight TV screen, five rows down, without having bought the headphones.

So I’m trying to fill in the gaps with the women who count here. What were you like in Grade 11? Have you ever been chased down an alleyway? Did you ever walk home at dawn and sit on the curb outside your house with someone you’d only just met? How do you dance? Seriously, I’ve never seen it. These are the questions of our youth that have no recourse here, as mothers overloaded with middle age, bloated with routine.

I recently sent a video to my good friend here, showing her what I think she dances like. According to the friends who knew her before 2007, I got it totally right. So Monopoly or not, maybe there’s hope yet.