It wasn’t my intention to come to Quebec and NOT learn the language! I imagined myself soaking up the dulcet tones of the Frankophones, building big-time on my tiny repertoire of French words and stumbling comfortably through a conversation at the fruit shop after a month with the Quebecois… erm Quebek-what?
Qubec-Wah! 5 weeks have whipped by and I’m still reverting to English at every turn! Wah! The constant buzz of this festival city is all-consuming! Woahhhh…. we have a toddler to entertain, and suddenly after a month, Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Our baby is no longer just not sleeping through the night…. she’s straight up not sleeping at all!
Witty and I both knew we had FOMO when we chose to marry one another. Two people with a Fear Of Missing Out. We knew the danger of two FOMOs procreating: doubly FOMO’d kids. But we went for it anyway. At first, we created Finn Atlas. Indeed this Titan loves to party, even in his pyjamas… but eventually he does go to sleep. Then descends Tallulah Moon on the clan… now she could make a lunatic of us all! She coos and giggles and naps through the day. She stops people in the street with her shining eyes. But shine like the moonlight on a dark sky, this one will have the wolves across Canada howling alongside her if we ask her to sleep alone. She’s a girl who know what she wants, and she has us up kissing, cradling, and trying all manner of things until we find ourselves co-sleeping and sacrificing worn out nipple skin for any winks we can get.* So yeah… not a lot of sleep happening….haven’t learned French yet.
Still, in a month in Montreal, we have picked up a few things. I list the following in order of importance.
1. Local knowledge of every splash pad within a 3 kilometre radius of our house. These fabulous arenas of water fountains, sprinklers, geysers and nozzles areMontreal’s answer to lifeguard-free water sports. We dig it. Finn digs it. So if you want to know about where to nail waterplay in the Gay Village (that’s where we live), we are your peeps.
2. Friends. This was a number one priority for us, but Finn trumps us with splash pads thanks to insatiable desires and toddler tyranny. Still, in a city where we arrived knowing nobody, we’ve been lucky enough to find friends who are not only cool in their own right, one couple we’ve fallen in love with also come pre-packaged with a terrific toddler whose made a new great mate for Finn. Evidently our new friends also think my parents are totally hip, so they are both crazy and clever forevermore in my mind.
3. Finding coffee shops that love/accept toddlers. Living in the Gay Village, we naively thought this could be a little hard to find. It was refreshing to learn that within 50 meters of our house there are not one, but two cafes with specially designed kid-play areas, and one of them does great coffee. Cafe Sfouf is run by a bubbly and delightful Lebanese woman named Gabi, and her kisses for Tallulah and head rubs for Finn are almost as moorish as her Lebanese ‘sfouf’ cakes that she serves alongside my soy latte each morning.
4. Becoming Bixi Bandits. Bixi is a bikeshare system that has absolutely nailed it in terms of convenience and quality. We signed up to an annual membership the day after we arrived and we rarely travel from place to place any other way. Witty rides with Finn, I ride with Tallulah. Yes. We get looks. But we are the Wittys and we are okay with that. We literally strap them to our beings via carriers, don them with helmets, and coast slowly through the bike friendly streets with relative ease. There are over 7000 bikes available and 600 bike stations to pick up and drop off bikes- conveniently there is one station outside our place, and stations near most splash pads… tick!
5. Playing in parks. Park me. There’s a lot of these! Parc La Fontaine that stole our hearts in 2017 is just up the hill on the Plateau and beckons us with toddler paddling pools, swing sets, lakes, ducks, festivals, families and even free marionette shows, in which we’ve all indulged! Besides that mega gem, there’s a plethora of friendly parks in every direction from any location with new slides, climbing equipment and fountains to be discovered. You’re starting to see how we fill our days?
6. Eating and buying like a local. Admittedly, this didn’t come naturally. I’ll confess that when we first arrived, we thought it would be financially sensible to take a fairly pricey taxi to and from a distant Walmart to do our initial ‘moving in to home’ shop. FAIL. Just so you know, Canadian Walmart is still just as gross as American Walmarts, but not nearly as cheap. What we’ve since found is the boutique markets, grocers, butchers and delicatessens on our street and in our neighbourhood offer far better goods at very competitive prices… and we can bixi to them!
7. Becoming members of the community. This actually means getting membership at our local community centre, so it makes us sound more involved than we are! But through signing up at the local library and joining the community centre just around the corner, we feel loosely tied in to the social fabric of the ‘hood. It’s a comforting feeling as we smile and ‘bonjour’ the familiar faces we see. We can leave our place and be sat playing puzzles in the kids section of the library within the space of 5 minutes. In this impressive bibliothèque, there’s a special little bookshelf for Finn and Tallulah (ie English and Spanish kids books) and they are hot borrowed property next to Finn’s bed at night. The swimming pool is indoors and heated, and on certain times it allows rugrat toddlers in to play. During those times, the pool is chaos. Every parent-pod and summer camp group descend on the pool, and the screaming slippery slides, ricocheting diving boards and whipping pool noodles make up a wild sea of kid soup. We love it.
8. Finding the perfect Gardarie. These are day care centres, and Finn is going to his first day of Gardarie today! It took us a while to settle on one, but we got there in the end! Finn’s new Gardarie teacher is from Colombia and speaks only French and Spanish, so naturally I’m excited by this. As you can see from our list of important learnings above, almost everything focuses around entertainment for the toddler. And try as we might, we are no match for good old fashioned toddler mates. He gets sick of us (erm… and we NEVER get sick of him!) so we figured paying for Finn to have some friends to play with twice a week would be great for his social development, and good for Witty have some dedicated work days. Plus then of course, Baby Number 2 (I think her name is Tallulah Moon) gets some good old fashioned one-on-one attention #unheardof.
9. Learning the language. Pretty far down the list! But with Google Translate, library books and downloaded audio lessons from the pretentious but clever Michel Thomas, I am getting there… slowly. Every day, I try to use one new word, or one new sentence when we are mixing with the locals. Finn is picking it up well too. Yesterday as he chased a squirrel up a tree, he roared like a lion and followed it with a terrifying “MERCI BEAUCOUP!” I’m sure that French squirrel appreciated the explosive gesture.
10. Finding amazing bars. I know… for a minute there you thought we’d changed. Alas, you can take the kids out of Australia…! Seriously though, Montreal has class. It has creativity. It has alcohol. and when the three come together, and they often do, you get very cool bars! Montreal is a place that celebrates pretty much anything and everything. Summer is one of those major things so when the sun comes out, so does every bar. Literally, onto the street. Move over Aussie cafes that creep out onto the sidewalks. These guys are building massive timber structures out over the roads, swallowing up car parks in front of pubs and bars, and all for the love of Summer. Booming fertile plant pots are hung and wedged all around these makeshift street balconies, beckoning passers by to stop, take in the sun and of course, an artisanal cider. Witty and I have found our favourite spot, Le Grenade, and this dynamite bar is dangerously close by. Now with my parents visiting (babysitting), we just might explode with excitement! Oh and did I mention the sexy Haitian Agrikol restaurant that Witty wandered by? Stop me now!
So that’s just a few of the things we’ve been finding to settle into our village. This beautiful, inclusive suburb is bursting with fabulous folk and a sense of freedom that I’ve never lived within before. It’s busy, grimy, bright and friendly and as far as melting pots go, the multiculturalism is rich. The guy who sells me fruit is from Algeria, the family across the street are Portuguese restaurateurs, my cafe queen is from Lebanon. We are from Australia, and we are sharing the streets with the young, old, straight, queer and just plain wobbly.
We love the ‘city change’ and now we are settling in for Autumn. When I get some more sleep and when I find some more time (whaaaaaat?) I will tell you about the lakeside lounging we did with friends in Ontario, and a wild and wonderful visit from Team Ireland that has just concluded. All of that and more to come in Atlas Vagabonds soon… maybe… if I get sleep. Bon nuit!
*We’ve recently concluded if we just give Tallulah Moon the one thing she wants (cuddles all night) then she’ll be happily let us do everything Finn Atlas wants all through the day. Respect.