On Being "Spontaneous"
For no particular reason, I've been remembering Laurie once saying, "You're not very spontaneous, Mom".
I think she was about fourteen. I do remember being taken-aback by this youthful observation.
What I don't remember is what I might have said "No" to that precipitated the remark.
Anyway, this morning I got to thinking about the difference between spontaneous and impulsive.
When I worked with the National Research Council, one of the professors I was assigned to was working on
a study on the toxicity of blue-green algae. In order to test the toxicity, they would inject
a lethal concoction into little white mice, specially bred for the purpose and ordered by the hundreds on a regular basis.
One of my jobs was to order the mice and sign for them when they were delivered. Sometimes it was hours before anyone from the upper
lab would come to pick them up. They would vanish into the inner sanctum of the
fourth floor and by the end of the week, there would be freezer bags
filled with the remains of little white mouseicles.
The building in which we were working wasn't air-conditioned but had
big double windows that opened on to the NRC lawns and Sussex Drive. On the morning in question, the wee little mice had been sitting in their cage for what seemed like
a particularly long time, so I got a dish from the lab next door and filled it with water, the idea
being that I would quickly open the cage and slide the dish inside. Instead, I
opened the door, slid the dish inside and then stood back. I'd say it took to about the count of five
before the floor was covered with little guys scurrying in all directions. There were mice everywhere! They ran
out of my little office and I could hear the exclamations spreading up and down the hall. I was laughing so
hard I could hardly stand up. No one ever asked me how the "accidental release"
had occurred; everybody was too busy trying to catch mice. Besides, who on earth
would intentionally (or spontaneously) release 150 white mice.
Then there was the brown paint episode, which probably falls more into the category of "impulsive" than
spontaneous. The little two-bedroom apartment in Sandy Hill was almost impossible to fix up, especially without
much in the way of money to use for improvements. The landlord certainly wasn't about to paint anything.
Somewhere along the way I acquired a gallon or two of shiny, oil-based, dark brown paint. The plan was
to paint the cupboards which were a faded and splotchy yellow. I still don't know what happened,
but when the paint fumes cleared and my family arrived home at the end of the day, the entire kitchen had been transformed
into a dark, shiny-brown cave. It was like walking into the centre of a chocolate bar or what I imagine a fallout shelter might be like.
It became a family joke and to this day, if I tell them I'm going to paint something, I am the brunt of all sorts of snide remarks - ("Be sure you stop
when you hit the sidewalk"). It took me a whole weekend and two coats of cream colored paint at who remembers
what the cost was, to cover up all that shiny brown paint.
After Mum died and the boys moved on, I could hardly wait to get away from that apartment.
I hired two fellows with a small truck to move
us from Sandy Hill to our new rental condo. I thought it would be a lot more inexpensive than hiring a large moving
firm. I was very inexperienced about moving, so I emptied all the drawers and
packed everything in cardboard boxes. There must have been about 100 boxes.
About a week before moving day, I spoke with one of the young fellows about the details, the time they
would arrive, how many loads they thought it would take, that kind of thing. When moving
morning arrived, our phone had been disconnected and we sat in our empty apartment, surrounded by all those boxes, waiting
for the movers to arrive. And we waited. And waited. Finally, I ran down to the
corner and called them from a pay phone only to get a recorded message that said "This number is no longer in service."
Talk about panic. I had a fourteen year old, a terrified cat (who had climbed up inside the heat radiator and wouldn't
come out), an elevator booked at the new place and no way to get there. Did I mention
it was also June 30th? - the day before the July 1st long weekend when everything would be
closed. I opened the yellow pages and the first name I saw under "Movers" was Adams Moving and Storage.
I phoned and told the fellow I needed a truck. He asked when would I need it and I laughed
shakily and said "Right away".
When he heard my plight, he found a truck and two men who were there within the hour. Not
only did they move all my boxes and furniture, when I told them I didn't have a car, they
took Laurie and I and the cat on the truck too.! Now, I'm thinking that the fellow I talked to on the phone was
pretty "spontaneous" and so were the two fellows who broke the rules by letting us ride along.
Do you wonder that I've used that company for all of the subsequent moves we've made.
On further reflection, Laurie was often embarrassed by a lot of my more spontaneous moments.
The ones she saw. It was certainly spontaneous when I danced
in the rain around the Trevi Fountain in Rome on our trip to Europe.
She didn't see me bounce up and down on the tarmack, literally screaming with delight and relief, when my plane
finally landed in Mexico after one long, disastrous 72-hour trip. It was years
before she was born that I spontaneously got up in a blues club in Halifax and sang "Summertime" and "Blues in the Night"
(wearing a tight red-velvet dress that would definitely not have met with her approval).
I'm thinking that if you're going to be spontaneous or impulsive, you'd better
do it where your family can't see you.