Imagine that

by Andrea Mulder-Slater 

"Mom! Mom! Come look at this!” 

The four year old was standing at the window – something wildly fantastic had caught her attention. Again.

“Maaaaawwmmmmm! Come look! Mom! Look!” 

I stood up from my chair for what felt like the four hundredth time that hour. It had been a busy day of discoveries for the littlest one in the house. As usual, my daughter’s imagination had been running wild – her detections shared with excruciating diligence.

First, there was a carrot that looked like a harbor seal.

“Let’s never throw this out! Never!”

Then, a pile of cracker crumbs which resembled a dog snout.

“I have to show Nana!”

A heart-shaped piece of toilet paper…

“Put this with your collection mom.” 

(For the record, I do collect toilet paper. Don’t ask.)

And, a day-old banana with an indisputable likeness of a baby Komodo dragon emblazoned on its spotty peel.

“Let’s take a picture of this with our brain heads.”  

Back to the window and to the kid, shaking with excitement...

Please, for the love of god, let it be a UFO, or a buffalo, or a chimpanzee. At the very least, let me witness Jay Z and Beyonce sailing by on a yacht when I look through that glass. My thoughts raced as I reluctantly stumbled to the living room - my body aching after having slipped repeatedly on the creative juices being spilled all over the floor.

“Do you see them? my fair haired girl queried softly, Aren’t they beautiful?”

Snow wrens were pecking away at the ground below our bird feeder. Tiny brown feather puffs busily gathered seeds and whatever else it is that snow wrens eat. While three worked away, oblivious to their surroundings, a fourth was standing guard on a pile of dirt left over from our home construction.  

“That’s the daddy bird.” explained my daughter – her eyes full of wonder.

I smiled at her, and slowly lifted my eyes to the water to begin scanning for celebrity ships. It was then that something danced across my peripheral vision.

After turning my head towards the movement, I shrieked, “Never mind those birds! Look at THAT bird!”

An ostrich was wandering slowly across our front yard. Strolling, if you will.


Okay, so it wasn’t an ostrich (and I wonder where the kid gets it) but it was a bird - a brown bird. And… it was huge. Freaking enormous!

It took a moment for my daughter to distinguish the wild turkey from his (her?) surroundings, but once she did, the dancing and shouting reached a fevered pitch.

That's a big effing bird, right?!

“There’s a turkey walking down our path!” I shouted to no one in particular, which was appropriate since no one in particular responded.

Geoff and Jan - accustomed to hearing about alligators in the bathtub and penguins in the sandbox - didn’t flinch, until the littlest one started dancing and bellowing my words on repeat, “Nevermind those birds, look at that bird! Nevermind those birds, look at that bird!”

And on it went until three adults and one child stood quietly on the front deck, watching a royal lump of a bird meander around the property, stopping only momentarily to glance at our four faces staring back at her (him?) before disappearing into the brush.

Shortly after I took this shot, a falcon flew over my head. 
Apparently I live in an animal sanctuary. Or hell. Whichever.

The moral of this story is -- always listen to your children, because you never know when the gargantuan imaginations that reside within their tiny bodies will lead you to a Wild Kingdom experience in your own back yard.

Also, I need to know... Are wild turkeys aggressive? Because, you know, I haven't been outside since.

No, really.

We're on a rural route to nowhere or somewhere, depending

When I was a kid, we lived in the country. Way in the country.

Isn’t that obvious by now?

Although we lived far away from any city or town, we were by no means the only family in the outskirts. Though most were cottagers who made only brief appearances once a year, there were a few “constant” families living among the wildlife.

But they were nothing like us.

There were the Hilfigers* - a rather uptight crew of five who had escaped life in the big city to settle in a lakefront mansion. At least, I thought it was a mansion. I had little to go on other than the fact that my house had one floor and theirs had two. Also, a mudroom. The Hilfiger father - a doctor – ran past our house and up and down our long country road every day, before dawn, at noon, after supper and when the sun went down. I know now that he was running to his mistress’ house in the nearest community, hours away by car. But at the time, I just thought he was really, really, fit. It now occurs to me that he probably wasn’t even a doctor, what with never going to work. The Hilfiger mother was a snob, by my family’s standards, and by that I mean that she never, ever talked to us, even though her daughter was my best friend (but only during school hours, on Tuesdays).

Then, there was the Lauren* Family. They lived near enough to us that on a really windy day, we could inhale their cigarette smoke. The four of them had very loud voices -- that carried. As a result, we always knew what they were having for supper, which child had misbehaved in school that day and who had a headache. Residing near them was exhausting.

Still, living where we did brought with it benefits.

For example: At the first sign of precipitation, all buses were pulled off the roads, mostly because Mr. Armani*, our snowplow driver, couldn't keep his rig on the road. Good heart, heavy foot. This meant that us country kids rarely attended school.

This too might be obvious by now.

However, living where no one else dared meant that we were slightly behind when it came to technological advances.

We had a telephone, but it was what was known as “a party line” which meant that in order to use it, we had to wait for Agnes de la Renta* who lived two rural routes over, to stop chatting with her friend Mabel Prada*. We had television, but only received two, sometimes three channels. All news. When we finally got a cable hookup, I didn’t sleep for a week. Until, someone chewed the line going into our house. It may have been mice, or the Lauren clan.

Because we had no prepackaged sources of entertainment, we country kids made our own fun. Entertainment out there was different than in the city, but it was readily available. Day, or night. Not unlike Mr. Hilfiger’s mistress.

Animal sightings were common, including that one time we all stood in amazement as a skunk moseyed in front of us with a soup can on his head.

Also, I had a pet squirrel, a pet raccoon, pet rabbits and pet frogs. And by this I mean I fed animals from our back deck until one day, when they all tried climbing up the screen door at the same time.

It was a bloodbath.

Power outages were typical, as were evening dinners made on a camp stove, toys made of sticks and buckets full of worms. And sometimes, if we were lucky, the local drunk, an ice fisherman named Versace*, would mistake our backyard for a toilet – always convinced our home was an uninhabited cottage. This was  fun for the local kids and the raccoons - not so much for my parents.

Eventually though, things evened out when my father brought home our first home computer. It was the size of a refrigerator and could be programmed to display the word “hello” in white type on a black background.

Not my house. Also, none of these people are my father.

It was amazing and signaled the dawn of a very different world.

When I look at my 4-year-old daughter, I can’t imagine her growing up without computers, iPods, Netflix, mobile phones and indoor plumbing. Still, our recent move back to the country has given us a chance to show her that there is more to life than a dedicated telephone line.

Every night we watch the deer wander past our window and in the mornings, we fill the feeder and watch tiny birds fluttering about. Pet caterpillars are routine, rocks are playthings and a pile of dirt is the best toy any kid could ever ask for.

Sure, we also share our home with the likes of Max and Ruby, The Wonderpets and My Little Pony and sometimes, as I scan my kid’s bedroom, I shudder at the glut of purchased playthings. But on the whole, I like to think we are providing our girl with a healthy understanding of what’s important… Experiencing nature, playing make-believe and always – ALWAYS - keeping the raccoons separate from the rabbits.

No, really.

*Names have been changed to those of famous fashion designers, because really, who wants to share this kind of personal crap with the world? Oh, no, wait.

This post has been edited and republished on Erica Ehm's Yummy Mummy Club with the title: Life as a Country Mouse: What I Learned Living Rurally

Put your feet up, stay a while

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

When my daughter was born, I received my share of unsolicited parenting advice.

Use cloth diapers. Buy disposables and a Diaper Genie. Don't give the baby a soother. Try this binky. Introduce meat at 4 months. Breastfeed until age 5. Here, slather this ointment on your nipples. 

Some suggestions were more helpful than others.

One of my favorites was: "Always run a vacuum cleaner when you put the baby to bed." Theory being that if you have your child fall asleep amidst obnoxious housekeeping noises, then – in addition to having a clean floor – your offspring will be able to sleep anywhere, anytime... mid meal, mid play, mid work. Whichever.

Like this kid.

And this one.

While I didn’t plug in the Dyson at nap time, I didn’t go overboard trying to create a silent sleeping environment for my newborn either. As a result, she dozed her way through several board meetings, numerous coffee shop visits and more than half a dozen Waffle House breakfasts – all during the first few months of her life.

Eventually though, her brain caught up with her and falling asleep became a wild struggle as “too much to do - too few hours in the day” became her mantra. If staying awake were an Olympic sport, she would take home the gold medal. Every. Single. Time.

Like mother like daughter.

While other children were passed out in shopping carts at the supermarket, mine was busy filling my trolley with baked beans and Kotex pads. And, as random youngsters lay snoring in their highchairs, mine was diligently organizing tiny packets of jam into  skyscrapers.

Until this week.

Jan, Geoff, the girl and I went for a mid-afternoon meal at a family restaurant. Country music was blaring. Teenagers were laughing. Babies were screaming. Staff members were singing. Patrons were clapping.

And this...

Spot the preschooler

For an hour, the 4 year old slept while we ate.  Just like that. And then, she woke up - refreshed, happy and ready to nosh. It was a Montana's miracle.

Fortunately the kid prefers her meals lukewarm - mostly because when she was a baby, I was terrified of setting her internal organs on fire and as a result all her entrees were served ice cold. No one gave me that advice, I came up with it all on my own.

No, really.