Tag Archives: Toronto

Embarrassing my kids at the cross-country races

I expected to be the subject of much eye-rolling during my children’s formative years but I didn’t think it would start so soon. My boy is only seven but I can already be an embarrassment to him. Yesterday was the kids’ cross-country meet. Hundreds of kids from all over the city running together along the beach of Lake Ontario, then through the park to the finish line. The kids were nervous but I was just hoping I could acclimatize myself to the joyful vision of small children running in time to stop welling up before either of my kids ran past me. Yes, children’s sporting events make me cry (for the record, no, I’m not surprised I’m an embarrassment).

I watched the early races while my kids waited in line for their age groups to run. I stood about 100m from the finish line and cheered as kids ran past, walked past, held hands with their friends and jogged past, lost their shoes and went back for them, or just ambled to the finish line watching the birds. But whenever a kid seemed to run out of steam I’d yell “Keep going! You’re so close! The finish line is just around the corner! You can do it!” And most of them did.

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Malli ran his whole race without walking and I managed to cheer him on without weeping which means we both won. Then he came to watch with me while the bigger kids raced. I kept up my enthusiastic cheers and encouraging yells until he pulled on my jacket and rolled his eyes towards the tree line. “Mum…,” he said. “What?” I asked. “You don’t want me to cheer?” He shook his head.

Ok, fine. I stopped yelling quite so much. We still clapped and we still shouted “Go! go! go!” and tried to snap photos whenever we saw kids from his school go by but I toned it down while we waited for Akka’s turn to race.

Then Malli pulled on my sleeve again and pointed, shyly. I looked and saw a little girl in a red shirt slow down to a walk. She looked exhausted. “What?” I said to Malli. “You want me to cheer her on?” He nodded. So I’m embarrassing but I’m not entirely wrong! Is there a name for this stage? Where I can mortify my kids while still being needed?

“Keep going!” I yelled while Malli clapped. “You’re so close! The finish line is just around the corner! You can do it!” She glanced at us. She looked at the trail ahead of her. She narrowed her eyes. And she ran.

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the thin blue line

There’s a thin blue line on the sidewalk. I don’t mean a line of police officers, I mean a real blue line. A thin one.

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The line runs along the sidewalk not far from our house. There is more than one, actually. Then at one corner they diverge and head off in two directions. Any time the kids and I are walking along and encounter the thin blue lines they immediately perk up and start following them. Just today they were trudging along, heads down, bent low by the dull drudgery of being well-fed children who want for nothing, when they spotted a line and got a spring in their steps. Malli tried to step on two at once getting himself into a bit of a splits situation while Akka tried to bend them with her mind.

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It looks like someone carried a leaky bucket of paint and then walked several blocks down one street, turned left at the corner, walked for a bit, doubled back, went back up the same street for a block, and then turned left again. But that would be a weird thing to do. Maybe someone is doing an experiment on pedestrians to see how they react to paint trickles. Maybe it’s a piece of street art offering critical commentary on the fact that two schools in the area have recently been converted into police stations. I just wish I could commission the artist to walk with her leaky bucket from my front door to my kids’ school to the grocery store to the bank to the wine store and back home. It would make the daily errands quite a bit perkier.

city kids

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.

ukulele night

For a while now I’ve wanted to find some way to make music. I used to sing in a choir and I used to play in the high school band and I used to take piano and guitar lessons. That was all a long time ago. It took me a while to realize that I missed it. I put Akka in piano lessons last year and, while she went along with it, she didn’t really dive in. Aha! I’m the one who wants to make music. She’s not craving it. She’s fine. She gets music at school and sings in class every day.

I thought of joining a choir but it’s too much of a commitment and always right at dinner time. Then, in Vancouver, my Mom walked into a gathering of ukulele players. She was pretty enthusiastic about it. A week later, together in Toronto, we looked for something similar and found the Corktown Ukulele Jam. Two ukuleles later ($30 each in the shop at the end of the street) we rounded up some friends and showed up for one of their special events: a campfire sing-a-long. Um, it was awesome. I loved it.

From the first paragraph of this post it should be clear that I wasn’t the coolest kid on the block. I wasn’t really hanging out on the block that much, what with all the choir practices and oboe lessons and piano recitals to get to. I didn’t even mention the ‘gifted’ math classes or the fact that when I started high school at age 13 I could easily have been mistaken for an 8-year old boy. Oh jeez: or the Star Trek obsession (I’m sure if I’ve left anything out my sister will provide full details in the comments below).

I’ve made peace with my geekiness. I’m ok with it. But I don’t broadcast it either (well, until now) and I can confidently say that I have adult friends who have no idea what a nerd I was (well, until now). So I was a bit worried about becoming enthusiastic about a weekly drop-in ukulele jam. Wouldn’t that, perhaps, be a step backwards? It probably doesn’t help that I found out about the weekly drop-in ukulele jam from my mother?

Screw it. Ukes are awesome, man! They evoke an urban nouveau-nerd coolness (as an aside: so does knitting). They’re affordable, accessible instruments and when you get a room of them together you can play anything! In my two visits to the weekly gathering I’ve learned parts to songs by the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Nash, Nancy Sinatra and others. It’s not all “Ukelele Lady” and empty plink plink sounds. And the people who show up to these things are nice people. They like music. They like playing music. They’re very supportive of newcomers who don’t really know what they’re doing. Nobody takes it too seriously: they can make fun of themselves. Some of them knit during the open-mic portion of the evening. (Two for one!)

Ukulele night is good for me. I feel happy when I go. Plus, it takes place in a bar. I’ve already rounded up three friends to join me in a Uke101 learn-to-play class in a few weeks. It’s better for everyone if I find friendly and casual ways to indulge my music-making urges. Otherwise I’d be on my way to becoming that crazy lady who bursts into song at every opportunity, dressed head-to-toe in her favourite colour, smiling at the unfortunate people trapped on the same subway platform saying (in a sing-song voice) “I just love to siiiing! I love to make MYUUU-ZZZ–IKK! Join me at the next chorus. C’mon, EVERYBODY!” As long as I make it to a weekly uke night now and then, this future vision will never manifest. Good idea, right?

movie night in the garage

The neighbourhood moms periodically leave the kids home with the dads and head out for a night on the town. The dads decided to organize their own night and, in contrast to the moms who high-tail it out with nary a backward glance, they generously elected to hold a movie night and include everyone. And hold it in our garage.

I dug out my grandad’s old slideshow screen (which was later passed over in favour of an old sheet stapled to the wall), one neighbour signed out a projector from his office, KG picked up the movie, everyone brought snacks and we rolled couches down the alley on skateboards and wagons and into the garage. It was cold but fabulous.

We watched Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Just enough action for the three-year-old, the right amount of slap-stick for the five-to-twelve year olds and impressively rendered mostly silent commentary on industrialization, the Great Depression, workers’ rights and capitalism for the grown-ups.

And, lest we get too serious, we capped off the evening with several episodes of the Annoying Orange.

dating

When Akka was a few months old we took a mom + baby yoga class. And there was a discussion after every class about various baby and new parent topics. A big one was relationships: you have to make time to date your partner. You have to make time for each other. The baby will swallow everything up. I thought it was nonsense. Our baby didn’t take time away from us – she WAS us. We wanted to bring her everywhere with us and she was small and gorgeous and portable and easy. We traveled far and wide and near and narrow with her wrapped up against his chest or mine.

Fast forward three years: we’ve got two babies and they’re not so portable and naps need to be taken lying down and bed time happens at a certain time and solid food needs to be prepared and ingested every few hours and now I see what those make-time-for-each-other people were taking about.

So, we’re starting to figure out babysitters. And tonight, as befitting two left-wing geeks, we went out to a panel discussion called Market Meltdown: Capitalism and the Crisis of Neoliberalism organized by the Socialist Project.

Very interesting and very refreshing (for me) to be able to sit down for a beer afterwards and have something to discuss in addition to Akka’s attempts to write her own name (wildly impressive, but perhaps only for those very close to her) and Malli’s flashbacks to his fall down the stairs (he says “tumble tumble tumble – kaboom!”  and won’t walk down alone but don’t worry, he’s fine).

A couple of pints, then a quick bike ride home to kiss the sleeping kids and and eat their left-over dinners since we can’t afford to both pay the babysitter and buy a nice meal out. Still worth it.

from before sunrise to just after sunset

Reecia, this one’s for you. You told me I didn’t need a special occasion or a particular message to write a blog post; that you’d be interested in reading about our everyday outings and mundane goings-on. So here it is: everything we did today.

It was a long day to choose for scrutiny. The kids got up just after six – early for them – and K is out at an evening work event so it’s been a bit of a childcare marathon for me.

From 6:00 to 7:30 I remained in denial about the start of the day. The kids had joined us in bed and were playing their usual morning games of trying to get me to read books, kicking each other, turning the bedside lamp off and on and off and on, stepping on my hair, kicking each other, dropping toys behind the headboard and whining for their retrieval. Very restful.

I dragged myself downstairs to make tea while the kids warmed up the couch for us:

Fed and watered, we waved goodbye to Thaththa (more on transliterating Sinhala words another time) and headed out to accomplish today’s goals: apply for new passports for the kids and pick up my new orthotics that I’ve left languishing in a sports medicine office downtown. Tasks that sound simple – getting to King and York to pick something up – actually require a week or more of deliberation, planning, and personal pep-talking.

Stuff some snacks into the diaper bag, buckle Malli into the stroller, convince Akka not to bring Tikiri (her doll) in the baby stroller but to carry her instead, and off we go to the subway. On the way, Akka and I discuss the upcoming photo shoot. These are passport photos, so you can’t smile. No “cheese!” No “cheese and crackers!” You have to try to look at the camera and not smile. And after one false start where neither child wanted to sit on the stool, they both did beautifully:

I’m glad I scanned these because I find them strangely cute, in a mugshot kind of way, and a they represent a considerable step up from their original passport photos:

The odd thing is, Akka’s passport (photo on the left) is still valid for another month. What immigration officer could identify my current girl from that photo? I remember being disappointed with her first passport when we got it. She was three months old and gorgeous but the photo looked awful. I’m holding her head up with a white towel draped over my hand. I wasn’t disappointed with Malli’s first passport photo. He was only ten days old and still scrunched up and it took countless tries to get a photo with his eyes open and mouth closed. That’s pretty much what he looked like that day.

Moving on. We buy some pumpkin scones while waiting for the photos, then stack both kids into the single stroller and hike over to the university to get K to sign the photos as the guarantor. Something I learned today: a parent can be guarantor for a child’s passport application. It was exactly the wrong time to drop in on his class – he was presenting to some people who get to decide whether or not the department gets its degree-granting credentials or something equally crucial. But poking one’s head in with two small children in tow – the professor’s children no less – tends to soften the glares. Photos signed, quick hello to cousin Edward, and we’re back on the tube.

The passport office: hell, always. The wait wasn’t even very long. There are several other small kids and they run around happily dismantling those seatbelt-straps-on-posts that direct the long queues. Malli is getting cranky and hungry by the time our number is called. I go up and the chipper woman tells me I’ll have to come back and bring the children’s “long form” birth certificates. Which the application instructions say are “strongly recommended” but not “required”. By this time I’m hungry too and Malli has just spit a mouthful of chewed apple into his shirt despite the prominent No Food or Drink sign and Akka is refusing to even join me at the counter because she’s busy “writing our names” on one of the seats so I just don’t have it in me to fight with this woman. I accept the slip of paper that will supposedly allow me to jump the queue when I come back with the right forms. I back away slowly.

Stop for lunch. The kids behave shockingly well in the sandwich shop that caters to hungry bankers, lawyers and executives in the middle of the financial district. As we leave the restaurant, I recognize a fellow survivor of the passport office walking by with her two children. Her application was rejected for imprecise photos. She’s in search of a photo store with an infant in a carrier and toddler in the stroller. We share impolite words for the system. Then my team is off to the sports-med office where they’ve made me two pairs of orthotics when I’m only supposed to get one. This requires several long phone calls to sort out. Akka plays teacher and reads to me and Malli from one of the magazines. Malli plays with the phone and pages the whole office (so I’m told when someone comes out to the waiting room to answer the page). Eventually my insoles are all sorted out and we’re on our way.

Into the PATH system (Toronto’s underground maze that connects the downtown buildings with various subway stations). Malli is asleep now and Akka is dancing her way down the halls, very nearly knocking into people, and stopping to talk to herself in every reflective surface we pass. On the subway she lies on my lap and I tell her she can’t fall asleep because she has to walk home and that if she does I’ll tickle her awake causing her to pretend to sleep and get tickled awake about sixteen times. Other people love that stuff, though. In the PATH hallways and in the subway people smile at me even after they’ve almost tripped over my dawdling kid. One of them helps me lug the stroller up the stairs next to the broken escalator.

Back at home, I try to get Akka to sleep but give up at the first sign of resistence. I know I’m on my own tonight and if she doesn’t nap she’ll be out for the night before eight o’clock.

Malli is up, and it’s time for a snack. We finish up some soup that our neighbour brought over the other day and then take a trip across the back alley to return her pot. Then some swinging and simultaneous game of catch:

I’ll let the photos explain the rest of the day. The kids get clingy in the late afternoon so I pry them off my legs with some popsicles while I make dinner. Malli didn’t quite finish his popsicle before tucking in:

Bath time started out with fun shampoo horns but quickly deteriorated into a crying mess of soapy eyes.

A sit-down with our new library books mended things (remember Corduroy?).

Skipping Akka’s nap did the trick and they were both out in no time. I poured a glass of wine. The house is still a disaster but I’ll think I’ll pour another.