Our kids are city kids. Now that they’re a bit bigger I’m starting to be able to do more city things with them. Lately we’ve been using not only the city’s parks, community centres and kid-oriented drop-in centres but also its galleries and its theatres; both performing and political.
Toronto is home to the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s great. It’s full of art. I have been there many many times but it was only on my latest trip that I saw any actual art. Until now all of my visits consisted of herding kids through the revolving door, making a bee-line for the coat check, hanging out in the kids’ play area, running for the bathroom, back to the play area, enjoying short and hopefully unnoticed nap on one of the giant cushions, secretly changing a diaper behind the bookcase, hitting the cafeteria, back to the coat check and home. I’m told there was a lot of art upstairs but I had to take other people’s word for it.
Now, it’s different. Stroller-free, I steered my littles up to the galleries. They looked around willingly. Akka sat down and copied some Inuit art into one of the guest books. There was a visiting exhibit of abstract expressionists and as we walked in, the staff handed us two kids’ activity booklets. To my amazement, they were completely on board. We walked from room to room eagerly looking for the paintings in our booklets and then sat in front of each one to work through the questions. They explored brush strokes and textures, we talked about how the works made them feel; speculated about how the artists felt as they created them. For one activity the kids were asked to draw an animal. Akka drew a giraffe:
The next task was to draw the same animal using only five lines:
I was pretty impressed. Malli isn’t as into this stuff but Akka was really getting it. I just had a stupid smile on my face through the whole exhibit as it dawned on me that I can take my kids to cool places and look at cool stuff and have interesting conversations with them, not just in spite of them.
Another task was to draw feelings. This is happy (on the left) and sad (on the right):
Newly optimistic about this wonderful city and my ability to navigate new parts of it with my children, I discovered the noon-hour free concert series put on by the Canadian Opera Company. This outing was especially for Malli. Akka was at school and it’s Malli who shows an interest in music (seriously – he’ll sit still for half an hour to listen to the last two movements of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Repeatedly.)
One weekday I fetched Malli after kindergarten and whisked him downtown in a taxi to the show. We heard a rousing 45 minute concert by the “Greek God of Guitar”, Pavlo. It was exhilarating. It was fairly cheesy. It was perfect for a four-year-old boy and his mother out on the town of a lunch hour.
Not all our recent outings have been oriented to the arts. We’re keeping it political, too. I envy those of you who don’t know this but Toronto’s current mayor, Rob Ford, is an embarrassment. He swept into power promising to cut fees and freeze taxes. He did. Then he set about trying to make up for the revenue shortfall by cutting government waste. He couldn’t find any. So now we’re facing service cuts in the form of library closures, lost daycare subsidies, public housing sell-offs, public transit fare increases, higher user fees and reductions in garbage collection to address a financial crisis entirely of the Mayor’s making. This paragraph is the most polite I can be about this issue.
A few weeks ago the people of Toronto came together to demonstrate against Ford’s proposed cuts. I think people sometimes forget that when governments don’t have any money to spend on public services it’s because they’re not getting that money from us in the form of taxes. If we don’t want our services to be cut we can’t allow ourselves to be governed by politicians who refuse to (fairly) collect those taxes. The kids’ signs at the rally express my very simple proposed solution to our municipal fiscal crisis:
Even if it is currently governed by a buffoon, I’m loving our city. I’m loving exploring it with the kids and want to plan some more suburban and far-flung urban adventures with them soon.
K and I have even headed out into the urban night to soak up some culture on our own. We’re not really theatre-goers; musical or otherwise. I was, however, raised with a healthy dose of musical theatre. We used to sing along to Oklahoma and South Pacific on long car rides. So I do have a favourite musical and it’s probably not one you’ve heard of. And if one’s favourite musical is a saga of Cold War chess-tournament rivalry set to music by ex-ABBA members, one must live in the biggest city in the country in order to have a chance of seeing it live. I knew if I bided my time the pull of 80s-retro would gather strength until a production company could no longer resist the urge to put this gem back on stage. Chess was great. I just wish it had been a sing-a-long version so my fellow audience members would have stopped snickering and put a little effort into learning the harmonies instead.