The Globe and Mail, April 4, 2006
Reprinted with permission
It was May in 1981. I had just given birth to the largest identical twins ever born at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital the previous month.
I already had a two-year-old at home. Well, home was a stretch. We lived above a store three doors south of Honest Ed’s on Bathurst Street. My husband and I were students at the time. In order to pay the rent, he had gone to Inuvik to earn isolation pay.
The twins cried all night every night for the first month of their life and my two-year-old son was unhappy with the new additions to the family. Finally one night, no longer able to take the crying any more, I put the two babies in a carriage and balanced the third on the handle, (this was obviously before safety had been invented) and headed to the park at 5:30 in the morning.
When I arrived, no one was there except for one woman reading a book. She was in her 50s or 60s. The babies were screaming, both wanting to be fed, but I could feed only one at a time. The lady didn’t say anything — she never asked if I needed help. She could probably tell I was the type who would have said no. She just took one of the babies and walked around with him until he stopped crying. This gave me the chance to feed the other in the first experience of peace I’d had in days. I remember the velvet sound of that silence.
For some unknown reason, my two-year-old, Jamey, travelled everywhere with a stack of hockey cards. Some kids had a teddy bear or a blanket. He had hockey cards. He looked at them all the time and shuffled the deck in some meaningful way.
He was angry that I could pay so little attention to him. I couldn’t push him on the swing. I could barely focus on him at all since the twins were only a few weeks old. He began screaming about his hockey cards and how I didn’t care about them. (What a mind reader.)
The woman picked up the cards and began reading all the statistics about each player. My son sat in rapt attention. She asked him all kinds of questions. Things I could never have come up with such as “Why with that many assists did Bryan Trottier have so few goals?”
Jamey would make up elaborate answers to these questions and smiled for the first time since I’d brought home the twins. She had paid attention to the hockey cards as though they were important and really tried to understand them. My son picked up on her sincerity and her engagement.
As the woman and I sat on the park bench, we watched the sun come up and all the children were content. We heard the first birds of spring and saw the dew on the still-closed daffodils as they shone as yellow fists in the new sunlight.
As she spoke, I picked up a New York accent and she picked up my Buffalo one. She said we were lucky we could both walk only a block to a park in our neighbourhood and could help each other out. She said she’d been a mother too. She said knew how hard it was to be locked in an apartment alone. My eyes filled with tears as I said that I never needed help more than I had needed it that day. I held Sam; she held Dave; and Jamey lined up all of his hockey cards in order. All felt calm in the world.
About a year later, I was walking down Bloor Street. The twins were now in a double stroller, Jamey was perched on my husband’s shoulders and I saw the woman who had helped me on the opposite side of the street. I pointed her out and my husband said, “That is Jane Jacobs. She is probably the most famous city planner that ever lived.”
Catherine Gildiner is the author most recently of Seduction.