Saturday, June 16, 2012

What to do when a pair of mallard ducks decide to mate. On your roof...

The easy answer involves weaponry. Sadly, this is frowned upon in a city. Even in a city primarily comprised of ex-farm kids. We don't want to frighten the last remaining born-and-raised city slickers. We may be a little rough around the edges but we're not monsters. Ahem.

It all started pre-dawn, in the wee hours of the morning just as the light was threatening to crack the horizon to announce a new day. Something was up on our roof, scratching at the cedar shakes…something large and angry. And every time I was about to drift back to sleep, it would wake me again. In the exact moment I uttered, “What the f*ck is that noise?” I heard a ridiculously loud, “QUACK. QUACK.” Mercy – they’re back. Monsters. The both of them.

Now don’t get me wrong - I love wildlife. But anything that wakes me up at 4:30 in the morning every day for two weeks straight is bound to receive a barrage of verbal abuse along with a few rocks tossed at their head. This includes my children. At any rate, I’m quite certain this is the same pair of ducks that decided to roost on our roof last spring. Left to their own devices, we soon had a herd, pardon me, a flock of wee ducklings wandering through the grass in our backyard last year.

Shocked that they’ve returned yet again, I recently did a little research on mallard ducks and their preferred habits. I’m extremely curious and somewhat desperate to understand the allure of our house, and why the mallards chose it as their love shack, seeing as it’s smack dab in the middle of a city. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned: mallard ducks tend to live in wetlands. We don’t live anywhere near water, but because the ducks usually arrive when the lakes are still frozen, a pothole filled with water will suffice. Potholes? Check. Water? Check. Often, the female will return to the same nesting site year after year. Check. It’s illegal to be in the possession of wild ducks, eggs or any nesting material. Say what? First of all, it’s not my fault they’re here. Secondly, whatever “material” they’ve been using to build their nest is likely mine to begin with, so if I need it, I’m taking it back. Just sayin’.

The rather intoxicating article on mallards went on to say that as soon as the ducklings are ready, the mother will lead them to the nearest water source, so it’s best not to provide them with food or water. This will not encourage their departure. Oops. Last year, the poor things looked peckish so I threw a big bag of birdseed in the backyard to keep them nourished, and also decided to whip out the turtle pool so they could have a go at swimming. Fearing the baby ducklings were too little to get up over the side, I even constructed a plank out of some wood to make it easier for them to get into the pool. I believe the term for extremely helpful people like me is conservationist. That, or idiot, for short.

After a day or so of defiling my turtle pool, the mother duck ushered her offspring under the fence and took off down the path beside our house, presumably in search of a natural water source. Before we knew it, one of our neighbours was ripping out of their house with a video camera to film the adorable family…and likely get some footage of the ducks as well. End result? They scared the living crap out of the mother duck and she proceeded to herd her ducklings deep into the dark shadowy recesses of our garage, which was standing wide open as we had decided to clean it out that day. (Translation: we couldn't even find our car anymore, so we had no choice but to clean it out.) Soon, the entire neighbourhood was out revelling in the excitement. I could have made a fortune selling lemonade and stuffed ducks on a stick. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was more embarrassed about – them seeing (and videotaping) the state of our garage, which at the time bore an uncanny resemblance to a marshland as it was strewn with mangled foliage from a recent attempt to prune our backyard, or, the shrub-like foliage in full display on my winter-white legs. Did I mention the article I read also strictly advised against anyone, especially young children, touching or handling live or dead ducks due to recent outbreaks of Avian flu? Come on, people – if you can’t play with ducks anymore, especially dead ones, where’s the fun in childhood?

My adorable nephew, Nathan...the little duck is imploring
me to save him from the savage, drooling naked beast.
"Don't be scared, little duck...I'm just going to probe you."
"Stay the f*ck away from me you scary featherless freak!"
Once everyone calmed down, friendship was restored...
Mama found her babies, and they waddled off to find a puddle to play in.

So, as to not have a repeat of mating ducks in our yard this year, I did what any self-respecting farm girl would do when in need of some sound advice – I turned to my Father. Not the one who art in heaven, rather, the one who art in Manitoba. The conversation went something like this:

Me: So, I have a pair of mallards on my roof again.
Dad: What happened to your roof?
Me: Nothing happened to my roof. There’s a pair of mallards up there. Like, ducks. They’re up on our roof.
Dad: Right now?
Me: Well, I’m not entirely certain if they’re up there right now but they’re kicking around somewhere. I’m thinking it’s the same pair who were here last year.
Dad: That’s not good. Because they tend to go back to the same place every year.
Me: Yes. I know this now.
Dad: And, they tend to mate for life.
Me: Also not good.
Dad: So I’m afraid you’re stuck with them. Hold on a second.

I heard him mumbling to someone in the background. As I waited, my mind wandered to another potential scenario. We seem to have attracted a pair of feral falcons to our roof this year as well...that, or they're some form of pasture hawk, I'm not entirely certain. We must be emitting some sort of high-pitched squeal, ushering anything that excretes white shit to come and hang out on our roof. Seriously. I'm starting to take it personally. At any rate, these hawk things scare the crap out of me - the way they shriek and swoop about, coming in so close that I suspect my children aren't even off-limits in their search to find something to eat. This of course, does not bode well for any baby ducks set to arrive in a few weeks. Perhaps I should call Ducks Unlimited; they would have people who know what to do. I need to do something before small baby duck parts start dropping from our roof.

My nightmare was interrupted by my Dad saying, “So your brother says you’re going to have to shoot them. At this point, it’s the only way to get rid of them. I don’t agree but I guess it’s another solution for you to consider.”


“Please remind him that I don’t live in a pasture. But thank him nonetheless.”

And that’s what you have to love about family; they’ll never shy away from dispensing advice. This Father’s Day, I’m reminded of how many times over the years I’ve turned to my Dad for advice. Not that we always agree – he’s usually far too practical and grounded for my liking. But Dad, I want you to know that you gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person – you believed in me. Always. You taught me to enjoy the world around me and to also earn my keep. You told me that when I found someone who could make me laugh, to hold on tight because a sense of humour will get you through almost anything. And most importantly, you taught me that giving of myself to others is the most important gift. (On that note, let’s just say those mallards are lucky I still listen to my Dad.) I can't imagine this world without you, Dad. I love you.

The answer is no, I have no idea why my pants are pulled up that high.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to potty train your child...

For starters, don’t ask me. Secondly, if you don’t like poop stories, skip this.

Let me start by saying that I never gave this much thought prior to having children. Who does? As an adult, I’ve had to deal with my own bouts of incontinence but those usually ended with a solemn vow never to drink vodka again. Click here for more details. So when it came time to teach my son how to use the potty, I turned to my mother for advice. She started the conversation by informing me that all of her children were trained by the age of one. I hung up on her…when you’re hanging on by a claw, who needs that sort of boasting? Indeed, she had my five brothers in the space of eight years so she likely didn’t have time for much crap, pun intended. She was out milking cows and working in the field, for heaven’s sake. According to my brothers, when they were toddlers they only stopped pitching bales long enough to slurp back a bottle and change their own diapers. The hike back to the house was also uphill, both ways. But that’s stating the obvious. Regardless, both versions of the story are highly suspect.

Our journey through this uncharted territory started just before the birth of our second child - my husband and I wanted to potty train our son before the next bundle of joy arrived. Jack was two and half years old at the time, and much like us, I can’t say that he was entirely interested, although the promise of a sticker or a mouthful of Smarties was usually enough to get the both of us to sit down and have a think about it. And we would sit, and sit and sit and sit - me on the bathroom floor, and him on his little wee training potty. For the record, I would have found the entire stint cruel and intolerably boring were it not for the constant stream of commentary that would pour forth from his mouth. Here’s a sample of one such conversation:

Me: Jack, just focus and push already. There’s for sure something in there.
Jack: There’s no poop in there, Mommy.
Me: Yes there is, Jack. You just have to push harder.
Jack: No, Mommy. There’s none. It’s all gone. We’ll have to get some at the store.

Clever and creative – Jack one point, Mommy zero. A little while later, after taking a break to explain to him that we didn’t need to purchase said goods at the store if we happened to run out, I upgraded to sitting on a tiny stool beside him. We were chatting away, passing the time, waiting for a movement of any sort. At one point, he was staring at me really hard, and I was certain that this intent look of concentration meant we were on the cusp of a massive breakthrough. Sadly not - rather, he wanted to play a game.

Jack: Open your mouth, Mommy. I want to count your teeth.
Me: Uhm…OK. Let’s practice counting while we’re sitting here. Great idea, Jack!

And I smiled really wide and he started counting my teeth.

Jack: One, two, three…you got supper in there…four….

I’m not sure about him, but the whole quality-time-in-the-bathroom-thing was starting the wear thin. That, and it wasn't doing a whole lot for my self-confidence either.

And so, weeks passed (at some point, we did leave the bathroom), accidents happened, a negligible amount of progress was made. When our daughter was born, there seemed to be less time in the day to focus on making sure Jack was getting to the bathroom on a regular basis. In fact, the only time he sat still for any period of time was to watch me breast-feed his baby sister, a process he found fascinating. Little did I know he was intently watching and doing research for what was about to become his new excuse for not being able to go sit on the potty. One day, shortly after nursing Isla and putting her down for a nap, I urged Jack to go to the bathroom. I told him there was no way he could hold anything in for much longer without having an accident. He turned and stared at me with an air of motherly grace and stated, “Jack can’t right now, Mommy. Puppy needs milk.” And with that, he picked up his mangy, stuffed dog, cradled it to his chest, gazed down at it with an immense amount of pride, and proceeded to breastfeed his puppy.

Tell me please, where does one go from there?

I’m not sure exactly when, or what, the turning point was, although after a few months of effort he was successfully potty-trained. Now that he’s older, the constant battle has stopped, although the drama and commentary continue. Click here to see video footage from the one time it really got stuck. Oh, the drama. And he still deems it necessary to comment on each creation, with declarations ranging from, “Whoa. That’s a big poop to put in a little bum.” to a more recent occurrence whereby after dolefully examining a rather paltry bunny-like dropping, he shook his head and muttered, “That poor little poop has no family, Mommy. That sucks. He’s going to fly back into my bum to find his mommy and daddy.”

When your child utters these profound statements with the clarity of the Dalai Lama, there’s not much one can do other than find a piece of paper and write them down for future reference.

I’ve been thinking about this whole potty-training production again lately as Isla is now officially potty-trained. She didn't comment on the whole thing like Jack did, nor did she drag the process out. Rather, she quietly went about her business. That is, after we told her that she can't go to school if she's wearing diapers. We withheld the part about her only being two years old, and that technically she won't start school for another couple of years. At any rate, that threat is the only one that works with her. She's so freakishly excited to board that yellow "scooo-ell" bus, that if she's misbehaving, or won't sit on the potty and we're all out of ideas, we simply tell her that if she doesn't do it, she won't ever be able to go to school. And it works like a charm. Every time. And please, you don't have to tell me I'm a genius, or that my parenting skills blow your mind. I already know.

I'll leave you with this video clip of Isla, when she first starting showing signs of interest in going to the potty. This was back when she was 18-months old. We've come a long way...especially considering the fact that for longer than I care to admit, she thought her belly button was some sort of penis. And for the record, I have no explanation for why I sound so deranged in this video clip. Zero. If I actually sound like this in real-life, then I thank you for being my friend.

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