Thursday, 29 March 2012

Hard Deep Junction Blues

Nearly four years ago pre-parent Chris and Sara were house hunting.  One evening while we were about to view a house on the border of Dundas Street West and Roncesvalles Village a man, in his early to mid thirties pushing a stroller stopped and got our attention.  "You should buy this house and help gentrify our neighborhood." he said and then continued on walking.  Chris and I turned to each other, our real estate agent, commented about the oddity of the situation and continued into view that house.  We didn't end up buying that house, but now that I have children I finally get what that guy was saying, although I don't know what he thought we were going to do to help change his neighborhood.  Based on the definition of gentrification* it seems he was hoping for more of a Bruce Wayne than a Batman.  I think I just implied that I'm more like Batman than Bruce Wayne and I'm good with that.

We moved into our house, in the Junction, in December 2008 and were thrilled with the small town feel in a big city with ready access to public transit (including the shortest bus route in the city - the 40 Junction), a plethora of used bookstores, a great video store with a lot of rare indie flicks and documentaries, coffee houses, furniture restoration and antique shops as well as the promise for more bars, shops and restaurants opening soon.  We gave very minimal thought to our neighborhood in relation to our future children (sorry guys).  We noted that there were some decent schools in the area and that this seemed to be a child friendly area with many parks, child focused stores and strollers to boot.

When the Starbucks moved into the Junction I had mixed feelings of pride in what the area was becoming and fear that it would get boring and all sorts of big box stores would move in. Don't get me wrong, I am happy that the Starbucks is here, but 9 out of 10 times I'd rather support the little guy.  

Source:  via falsepositives on

We both still have our warm fuzzy feelings for our neighborhood, but unfortunately some of that has been peppered with not so great situations that have our stomachs lurching about our children in this area as they grow older and roam the area on their own.  This is a great community that has been faced with some awful situations as of late, perhaps this is just a part of the process of a neighborhood changing, I don't know, but it's been in the news A LOT.**  It also doesn't help that a prostitute approached my car on the way back from driving one of our sitters home a couple of months ago.  I almost understand why people move to the suburbs when they have kids.***  We're hoping that part of the "big city experience"**** gives our kids great opportunities for culture, public transit and everything Toronto has to offer, I also hope it teaches lessons that get our kids street smart, savvy, but not afraid.

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*Based on the definition of gentrification - the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
***I said almost, I grew up in the suburbs, I know bad things can happen there too.
****My husband is from a small town in Southwestern Ontario called Chatham, that features gorgeous houses, a lovely picturesque river and park life, along with a somewhat seedy underbelly that resembles something out of a Stephen King novel.  Toronto isn't looking so bad in comparison.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Park Life

Last week my normally amicable relationship with my city, Toronto faltered.  I wanted to know why my city hated children, parks and animals and why it was so hell bent on taking away things I planned on sharing with my kids.  First some 19 year old decided to torch Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in High Park*, what a selfish jerk - I'll leave it at that.   Then Edward Keenan's article in Grid Magazine reminded me about the impending closure of High Park Zoo due to lack of city funding, a park deed that won't allow for set admission rates and not enough time to secure corporate sponsorship**.  My husband asked me to write this because although I can't stop an a-hole with a pack of matches, I can promote our High Park Zoo.

After we parked our car, unfolded our mammoth double stroller and walked our entourage into the gates of The Animal Paddocks I felt the love that our city has for High Park Zoo.  Signs and pictures line the fences asking to save the animals, volunteers collect donations via the drop box, animal feed, colouring books,  peacock feathers and other park mementos.  Essentially the zoo has until the end of June to raise $100,000 to run the park until year end, however the animals will begin to move out of the park in the beginning of June if the zoo isn't making significant progress towards their targeted fundraising goal.

 Donation box/ goal thermometer in the Animal Paddocks....come out and bring a fist full of toonies & loonies.
   Support for the Park Zoo/ proof that Toronto Libraries are still needed.

As we walked the road in the paddocks I would like to say that Molly and Jack were amazed by the animals.  They weren't. Jack passed out in the back of the stroller doing that weird exorcist thing he does with his head and Molly slumped in her seat and alternated between napping and glaring at people.

Some of the animals you may see at High Park Zoo. (photographs by Shawn Nolan)

 The elusive Capybara.  Also known as the largest living rodent in the world.
 One of several reindeer soaking in the warm March sun.
 Sleepy American Bison/Buffalo.  The largest terrestrial animal in North America.
The friendly and social Llama.  He came to the fence to say hello.
The Emu was growling a lot because he didn't want to have his picture taken.  I think he was feeling a little self conscious after a little girl commented to her father that Emus have big butts.

 I left the park feeling a little more love for the people of our city and wanting to go back to The Paddocks soon, when Molly and Jack are awake .  I'm going to try to go once a month in April, May and June with a sack full of change and an even bigger entourage to support the park and enjoy it while it's still around.  If you can't make it into the park or if you want to donate a little more, you can online and will get a tax receipt for donations over $10.00:


Thursday, 22 March 2012

April Fools

Spring has come early this year and although the warm weather is wonderful it has caused some sort of butterfly effect of inappropriate shirtless men everywhere.  It is technically the middle of March and I have seen two shirtless men so far this season.  One was running in High Park and I can almost deal with that one.  It's the guy who was standing at the bus stop, shirtless wearing his tank top like a bolero* that I have a real beef with.  He obviously knew that he'd need to put his shirt back on before being allowed to take transit, however he just had to have his chest exposed in the ten minutes he stood their waiting for the Dupont bus.  Even more horrifying is that it wasn't even in this week's extra warm spell that I saw these two shirtless guys.  Jogging guy, although you are ridiculous, I appreciate your attempt to pull off a Matthew Mcconaughey workout, however I think to really work it you need to stop running and start doing push-ups, sit-ups and lunges every 500 meters or so.

This brings us to "The Aprils".  About 5 years ago on one of the first nice days of the year a group of friends were sitting on a patio drinking and enjoying the first signs of Spring.**  While we were sitting, drinking and people watching we noticed a trend that is a less intense version of Spring Shirtless Guy that we've, I think aptly, entitled "The Aprils".  This is when generally fit people still have their hibernation weight on them, but are so excited about the warm weather that they grab some clothing that they wore at the end of the Summer when they were likely at least 10-15 pounds svelter and much less pasty.  The most interesting thing about "The Aprils" is that people are so excited to be out in the nice weather that they don't care about their ill fitting clothes.***

As Spring progresses "The Aprils" gradually fade.  After a long Winter they can go into May and sometimes the beginning of June, but they slowly melt away.  The thing about a post pregnancy body is that it's like having "The Aprils" focused on your lower belly that just won't quit.  You can lose weight and even get down to your pre-pregnancy weight, you can eat salad, you can walk that stroller until your feet fall off, nothing perhaps short of running around the park with shirtless guy will cure that as far as I've experienced, and most new mom's don't have the time to chase after a shirtless guy in the park.  I keep on saying that I'm going to do crunches on the floor at night in front of TV, but I'll do it once, be sore for a day and then forget about it for two weeks and so far that tough regime is getting me nowhere.

My constant case of "The Aprils" is why I am restarting an old love affair.    Tae Bo.  That's right, Billy Blanks is back in my life, twice a week, with his positive Christian encouragement and requests for me to blast my abs.  When we bought our house almost 4 years ago I dumped Billy for my treadmill, but I couldn't bring myself to throw out my 16 Tae Bo DVDS**** and now I'm glad he's back. I'm ready to, "put on my power 24/7", okay maybe just for 40 minutes twice a week in addition to my stroller walks and hiking, but just the same who could resist this charming man, and who else says stuff like that?  Until May***** I'll be the one sitting at the patio judging others, behind my table and wearing a real bolero.

*A bolero is a cropped, cardigan-like garment with short or long sleeves.  A shrug covers less of a body than a vest would, but is more tailored than a shawl.  Shrugs are typically work over a tank top or shirt and not as a replacement for a shirt.
**This is a Canadian right of passage.  It's in almost every beer commercial.
***Says the judgmental people sitting on a patio drinking beer.  You know what a flattering look is, sitting, behind a table, yeah that's right there's nothing but rock hard abs under this patio table, just don't ask us to stand up.
****My obsession was a little bit unhealthy.
*****More likely June.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

No More Tears

We were both relieved when Molly's colic finally ended.  Soon after, although things weren't nearly as difficult as they had once been, we realized that Molly is a 7 month old drama queen.  Anyone who knows me probably thinks I entirely deserve the Molly theatrics, although my mother has confirmed that in spite of also suffering from colic I was a fairly well behaved infant and child.

Miss Molly has a temper.  Yesterday when Chris got home from work I explained how Molly and I were fighting because while I tried to change her diaper she kicked at me, hit at me, screamed and threw diapers all around the room.   Chris then asked me if she stomped around and slammed some doors - a direct dig at me.  I gave him a really dirty look.*  I feel a little guilty about painting her as the bad guy, but her brother is so easy going that I genuinely forget that he's around sometimes and I have never forgotten about Queen Molly's presence.  Whenever I say that she's being bad, my mother corrects me and tells me that she's just high maintenance.  I am aware that she is teething and is coping with a lot of gum pain.**  We have learned her patterns, and are aware that she is a morning person, who requires a lot more sleep than her brother and gets crankier and crankier by the minute until her 830pm-9pmish bed time.  She has turned a corner and is a lot more pleasant to be around most of the time, but I think we let this fool us into submission.

Generally she requires three naps a day, varying in length and I can count on one hand how many times she's gone done with a whimper rather than a scream.  And when I say scream, I mean a lioness growl that sounds more like an angry wild cat than that of a 16.5 lb baby girl.  Usually this results in 5-10 minutes of angry snarling, followed by her falling asleep.  The past two weeks she's gone down with much more of a fight, even though I didn't think that was possible.

First she screams her wild cat screams*** and then the waterworks start - I didn't know anyone was capable of so many tears.  We've had to change her sheets because they get sopping wet from her crying, with her tears soaking into her clothes and blankets.  If you go and check on her, she'll smile at you, as if saying, "I'm not tired.  You should come play with me.  I wasn't even crying." Don't pick her up, it's a trap.  Next comes the intense kicking of the sides of the crib like some sort of deranged ninja until she gets her legs wedged between the bars and really freaks out.  Then when you go to check on her again she'll do this bizarre maniacal mix between a laugh and a cry, where no one, not even Molly herself knows what she's trying to accomplish.

I wonder if part of this new sleep issue has to do with the fact that the soft noises of the Sleep Sheep we normally use to lull the babies to sleep (Molly's preferred sound whales noises, Jack's babbling brook) is running out of batteries.  The problem with children's stuff, and I am aware that this is a safety issue - it still doesn't make it any less of a pain, is that everything is safety attached, which means that you need a screw driver to change the batteries on Sleep Sheep.  When Sleep Sheep runs low on batteries it doesn't stop working the noises change: whale sounds, now resembles demons who have come to swallow your soul, while babbling brook sounds more like a toilet clogging and leaking all over your floor.  Maybe I should take care of that tonight, but I probably won't have time.

*I am trying really hard not to swear as much in front of the children, which has resulted in a code where I glare a lot and when Chris is being a douche I call him Topher. It still has some bugs.
**To feel better she'll often intensely suck on a phallic shaped stuffed snail on her Exersaucer (AKA The Console of Doom).  It horrifies her father and he won't let me photograph her doing this.
***Our sitter Liz calls this her siren scream, think something Medusaesque that could turn sailors to stone. (Yes I know I'm combining legends here).

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Little Hotel Room

Just three days after a bittersweet forage into the world of travel with babies we were a bit gun-shy about the entire family accompanying my husband on a four day business trip.  We set out anyway, but this time without the support of friends and family, determined to mold travel adaptable babies who would be able to seek adventure with us.  Since we were still raw from the last trip we felt better prepared to deal with home base becoming the confines of a hotel room.  The entire entourage behaved, proving that business trip groupies can get by without (necessarily) destroying their surroundings and everyone's last nerve.  I know that a lot of this was luck, and an increased tolerance for bad behavior, but I'd like to think that at least some of it had to do with the new bag of tricks that we'd developed to make a hotel room a little more like home.

A Room of Their Own
From our limited experience we've found that a suite works best.   Not only does it give you a separate space  to watch TV, play cards or just hang out, it gives everyone involved a little bit of privacy.  We found that sharing a room with Molly means that she becomes super sensitive to every movement or sound.  Not only were we tempted to throw a sheet over her crib hoping that she'd behave like some sort of bird and realize that it really was night time, but that we also ended up going to bed earlier than we wanted to and watching TV at a volume level of 12.

Bed is Boss
Calling any hotel ahead of time (when you book) to find out about lender cribs, playpens, highchairs or anything else they might have will allow you to find out 1) how children friendly the hotel is and 2) will give you an opportunity to request a quiet corner away from the beaten path so you and other hotel guests don't disturb one another.  Most trained front desk staff will automatically do this when you check in, but it's good to ask.  At our second hotel we ended up on the same floor as a women's hockey team, which worked out in the end, but could have gone the other way.  If you are worried about germs either bring your own portable playpen, or a couple of extra crib sheets and a bottle of Fabreze.  You may also want to request a King sized bed for yourself.  We have found that a King sized bed, some pillow borders, a bunch of toys and some supervision can make a playpen that our kids love.*

Brand New Treat
At first I wasn't convinced that a brand new toy would be distracting enough to hold their interest, but the new plastic ring stacker**  was a huge hit.  A new item or two can save your butt when bored babies are about to meltdown, but be sure to play your hand wisely.  If they're already too worked up, in my experience, the new toy will get rejected and thrown against the wall.***

Location & Amenities
By selecting hotels with restaurants, parks, shopping malls and interesting walks nearby I was able to get out during the day rain or shine.  We were also able to head out to dinner each night, with a quick getaway planned if either child started to act up.  If they are in a particularly fussy mood you may want to look into room service options.****  All restaurant travels worked well, but this may also have to do with the copious amounts of warm rolls we stuffed into their little mouths.  Another great amenity for us at the hotel was the pool.  This gave everyone a break from the four walls of the hotel room and worked off some energy for everyone before bed time.

Be Prepared to Bus Your Own Room
For some reason whenever I managed to get the kids down for a nap it was the exact time that maid service wanted into our room.  I'd quickly collect all of the garbage and dirty towels from the room, secured a note to the door warning about sleeping babies and requesting whatever I needed and it made everyone's life easier.

Use What You've Got, But Come Prepared
A sink can make a quick on the road bath for any small child, a microwave can boil water to sterilize bottles and if that isn't available you can always bring a plug in kettle.  If you are somewhere where you aren't so sure about the water supply, bring a filtration pitcher.  Years ago Chris and I created a fool-proof camping check list to make sure we went out prepared, adding in items when we had the, "I wish I had blank, that would make life so much easier" moments.  The same has gone for travel with the minions.  There are things that I needlessly brought (bumbo and vibro-chair) and things that I forgot that I really needed (electric kettle), but you make do and add or subtract from your list for the next time.      

*It also helped that we brought along so many toys that the bed looked like a giant toy orgy.
**We have discovered that we lack creativity when we describe or name toys.  Dolly is Dolly, the stuffed frog is Mr. Frog, the giraffe rattle is Mr. Giraffe.  When Chris mentioned this I claimed that it was so we weren't confusing kids about what things are really called, but I'm full of it and just lazy.  I also don't know why I've added a surname onto most of the toys.
***Gee, I wonder which child did that?
****This became our only option after we arrived in town really late one night because most pubs will not allow you to bring in children after 10PM.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Born This Way

The minions turn 7 months tomorrow and this week in anticipation of that milestone I consulted my, What to Expect in the First Year book to see where my children stacked up.  They are progressing nicely in all areas, except for sounds.  Neither has made a mamama or dadadada like the book suggests.  This week while on a walk with my neighbor, a mother of a six month old baby, we decided that parents surveyed for the speaking milestones exaggerate, they lie, or they hear what they want to.  Or our children just aren't that vocal yet.  Either way, I'm sure that they'll all get there - eventually.

This realization led to a discussion with my husband where we both acknowledged that our son's primary mode of communication since month 4, nearly half of his life, has been raspberries (AKA fart noises) followed by a low husky giggle.*  My husband claims, although there were no witnesses, that Jack said a single Da while looking at him this week.  In light of my son's new found fondness for high fives (followed by a low husky giggle) I suggest that perhaps he was trying to say dude.  After spending 7 months with the little man I strongly believe that we are raising Jeff Spicoli.  The other day he did say Ba and kind of gestured towards a bottle**.  Maybe we're reading too much into our little party dude.  Sometimes he sleeps in until 11am, what baby does that?  He's also been known to lunge at any available glass of wine, thanks to nana, grampa and my own*** old school solution to teething.

I don't know if we've unfairly projected this image onto our son because of his surprising easy going nature and brooding eyes or if this is who he's going to be today, tomorrow and for the rest of his life.  Yesterday my mom told me that my children reminded her of Max and Ruby...from what I know of Max and Ruby I'm pretty sure I should be offended.****  I don't know why we equate being nice with a lesser intelligence and why Jack's easy nature makes the two an automatic odd couple.  I don't want her to be the Jessie Spano to his Zack Morris, The Alex P. Keaton to his Mallory or even worse the Lisa Simpson to his Bart.  Molly, please don't be a Lisa Simpson, Lisa episodes are the worst.

*This giggle is akin to Beavis's hehehehehe.
**A noise and cavemanesque gesture his father has been known to make at his beer late on a Saturday night.
***Yeah, I'm guilty of it too.
****Max is a little dullard and Ruby is a bossy know-it-all.  My mom assured me that the show has toned down Ruby's bossiness, but I'm not convinced or willing to watch to find out.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

We Are Family

This past week as I voraciously read The Hunger Games*, I began to think about tradition.  There are so many traditions from my own childhood, Chris's childhood and the ones that I have coveted from my friends (both literary and actual) that I want us to give to Molly and Jack.  I am well aware that they are still far too young to enjoy many of these, however, as a huge fan of lists this is one of the first steps to preparing us for the years to come.

A Very Merry Unbirthday To You!
I have wanted an unbirthday of my very own since I first found out about its existence.  Once I had the twins the importance of the unbirthday has grown by at least 10/6**.  Molly and Jack will share their birthdays forever.  We want to give them each a day of their own that they don't have to share with anyone else.  Every year they will each get to pick one unbirthday where they get to do an activity of their choosing and get an unbirthday cake.  There are no presents on an unbirthday - because it isn't anyone's birthday, just a special day to celebrate that particular person. 

The Magic Movie Ticket
When I was 12 or 13 one of the few activities I was permitted to do without parental supervision was to go to a movie with a few friends.  We would go to the mall food court for supper and then walk across the street to where we would spend our allowance on $4.25 cheap Tuesday movie tickets, all of us except for my friend Helen.  Helen's parents would pay for any movie ticket for her as long as she had read the book first.  Sometimes the entire family would read the book, go to the movie and then have dinner together afterwards discussing all of it - a familial book club of sorts, other times she'd be permitted to go with her friends.

Vacation from Cereal
As a child there were certain cereals that were off limits because they were unhealthy.*** This rule was abolished every summer when for two weeks we'd head up North and were able to eat from those mini boxes of sample cereals with all three of us fighting over the beloved Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops and Fruit Loops.  Unfortunately by the fifth day there was nothing left but Bran Flakes, but even they tasted better coming out of miniature boxes.

We all Scream for the Last Day of School!
My friend's father hated school growing up, so every year on the last day of classes he'd take his kids out to celebrate - with unlimited ice cream treats from the local Dairy Queen.  The only rule was that they had to finish the one ice cream before they were permitted to order another.  I immediately pictured disastrous ramifications with sick, lactose intolerant children clutching their little bellies in pain.  My friend assured me that no one ever ordered more than three ice creams and that her father always "pitched in" in the end to help them finish their tasty treats.

Plan Your Own Vacation
Whenever we went on vacation my mom would research all of the wonderful things available to do at our destination .  Each family member was able to choose one activity per vacation that we'd all do together, whether it was eat at a specific restaurant, go to a theme park, horseback riding or climbing a waterfall, the choice was our own.  It gave us all something to look forward to and was incentive to behave ourselves when away from home.  This also gave us fodder to make fun of whoever's activity was a bust.*****

I know some of these traditions will blow up in our faces, like when we try to hold a family book club with a pair of eye rolling 15 year olds or when we're cleaning up ice cream vomit from the backseat of the car, however by implementing these activities we celebrate family togetherness, personal achievements, moderate indulgences and what it means to be a part of our offbeat little clan. 

*I make it a personal rule to try to read the book before seeing the movie, enabling me to always have my own version of the characters in a story before I see someone else's interpretation.  AND If you haven't already read this book - READ THIS BOOK!
**A little shout out to my fellow Alice in Wonderland fans!
***This is one of the many reasons, aside from being poor, that I existed mainly on Count Chockula and Eggo Waffles when I first moved out on my own in my early twenties.
****Erika, you know I'm talking about you.