Take a Hike

I’m sure you know one of those families that are so outdoorsy and stoic that it’s irritating. They’re always headed off on epic cycling trips or month-long paddling excursions. They don’t have any wimpy kids in their brood, who constantly whine, “My legs are tired. Are we almost there?”

No. Their kids completed their first triathlon at the age of 6 and can easily carry a 20-lb pack as they scale mountains.

I don’t know who these kids are, but they look impressive.

I aspire for us to be one of those families. And I’m ready to irritate you with tales of our stoicism.

For the last few years, we’ve been promising our oldest that we would do an overnight hiking trip. Soon. When you keep saying that you’ll do something “soon” for YEARS, your kids start to lose faith in your empty promises.

I thought, for some time, that we would have to wait until Lark is old enough to walk a fair distance. She’s still only 5, after all. Although she requires no sleep and probably runs a marathon every day, when it comes to going on a family walk, her legs suddenly stop working.

She is very tired, she needs a break, she needs a snack, and this is boring.

I began to realize that if this overnight trip was going to happen soon, we’d have to take my daughter out of the equation. I told her with some hesitation that the three of us would be going on a camping trip without her. But that she would be having a sleepover at her aunt’s house.

She was not remotely disappointed. “Good,” she said, “Because I hate walking.”

The past many months of international pandemicdom has made me thoughtful. What kinds of experiences do I want for our family? What can we do together that is out in nature, creates growth and pushes our collective boundaries a bit? This excursion ticked those boxes for me.

I began researching all of the gear we would need. We have a lot of camping equipment, but it’s all for “car-camping” as snooty backcountry Canadians like to say. Translated, our tent weighs a tonne and is meant to be thrown in the back of the car for drive-up camping. The purists among us only consider it camping if you walk or paddle there. Or parachute. Whatever.

Although That Big Mountain Store had some great options for gear, their prices were high for what was essentially an experiment. I found stuff elsewhere, borrowed a few things, and hit Canadian Tire.

Last Friday, we tossed some packets of ramen in our bags and hit the road.

I should mention that I ran into trouble when I began looking for a place to do this hike. Ontario’s provincial parks system has a bunch of parks with hiking trails, and backcountry reservable sites. I narrowed my search down to the ones that were not more than five hours away, and then found that – sigh – most sites were completely booked until DECEMBER.

In this post-COVID world, no one is travelling far, and everyone wants to be outdoors.

Finally, I found an available site at Frontenac Provincial Park. This park is over 5,000 hectares but is apparently “threshold wilderness.” Anywhere else in the world it would probably just be wilderness wilderness, but in Canada, you know, we have tiers of these things.

On arrival, it was a balmy 12 degrees. We had a 5 km walk to our site.

Map in hand. Ready to walk.

I was relieved to find the trail very clearly marked. It was almost impossible to get lost.

The Arkon Lake loop was about 11 km in total, and relatively flat with a few small hills.

Frontenac didn’t disappoint with fall colours.

Craig and I were both super proud of our kid for not complaining and carrying his pack with minimal rests.

Campsite 7 at Birch Lake
Food storage box to prevent a critter invasion, OR, my worst nightmare, BEARS.
Bean steaming himself on a frosty 5 degree morning.

Although it was chilly overnight, the whole experience was amazing. You know that something feels like a success when you’re already planning your next trip on the way home.

What are your next new adventures going to be?

Silence and Solitude

My house is so, so quiet.

For the first time in an age, I’m alone in a house filled with silence. Well, almost alone. My husband is “at work” upstairs. Employing quotes implies that he isn’t actually working. He is.

I cannot hear My Little Pony playing on the TV downstairs. I cannot hear my son humming repetitively under his breath while he concentrates on something. I cannot hear the sound of my daughter’s foghorn flute voice asking me for a cup of water/a snack/a show/another snack/help/a sweater/clean socks/a cookie/screentime/playtime.

I cannot hear my children because they are at school. And lo, the children did returneth to school, and the parents across the land rejoiced.

I am alone with my thoughts. Exciting as they are. Last year, I asked a friend, a stay-at-home mum to three, what she was going to do now that her kids were all in school. She thought for a minute, and then said, “I’m going to think really long thoughts.”

So I’m sitting in the dining-room, thinking long, uninterrupted thoughts.

Over the last six months, the kids and I have filled the school-less days with many, many things. Games. Outdoor time. Puzzles. Artwork. Eating. Baking. Eating the Baking. Cleaning. Making Messes. Cleaning Again.

I recognize that there is an element of good fortune in not having a proper job to try to maintain. My job for the past half year has been to manage my kids and keep them happy and occupied in the weird post-COVID world we inhabit. And to keep them away from the office door because, Shhhhhh, Daddy’s on a call!!

I say “them” but really it’s my daughter who must be shushed. There are definite advantages to having a child who is a born talker. There are disadvantages too. I’d break it down like this:

Pros: Eloquent. Expresses self. Often hilarious. Strong debating skills.

Cons: Rarely quiet. (See my post Movie Kids.) Talks over the top of people. Interrupts.

When I get irritated with her for sending my train of thought skittering off the tracks, I have to remind myself that she’s probably destined for a luminous career in law or stand-up comedy.

It’s so quiet in here that I can hear the clock ticking.

Aw, I miss them. #momlife

Kitty Power

A few years back, I promised my son that we would get a cat, because, “everyone else” had a pet, except for us.

And then, no further action was taken. Together, the Bean and I often looked at cat profiles on rescue sites, and wondered if Fluffysocks or Martin were the cats for us. Despite saying that we would get a cat, I couldn’t take action on it, because, frankly, I just couldn’t imagine another thing that needed ME to keep it fed and alive.

On occasion, someone would ask us if we owned a pet, and my son would answer with eternal optimism, “No, but we’re getting a cat soon.” And I would feel guilty and write the item “Get Cat” on my current To-Do List.

Then in November, I spotted a litter of kittens that needed homes on a local rescue site. I sent an email, and within a couple of hours was on the phone with the woman who was fostering the cats. She told me she had named all of the kittens after chocolate bars.

And that’s how Snickers and Mr. Big entered our lives.

Snickers is a snuggly, black-and-white tuxedo. Mr. Big is the ginger with the personality to match. These brothers have kept us on our toes since the day they arrived, providing endless amusement with their shenanigans.

Okay, there have been some stressful moments, as when I caught Big playing with a button battery, and when I found myself Googling “plants toxic to cats.” And discovered that most of our plants are indeed, toxic to cats.

Despite the extra work and the demise of my leather furniture, these kitties have brought some much-needed fun and cuteness into the house, at a time that we were beginning to feel that things couldn’t get much worse.

Yes, I’m now a crazy cat-lady who shows pictures of my kittens to random people on the street. If you want to see more pics, these tech-savvy dudes have started their own Instagram account.

Follow them @snickersandmisterbig

When the Helicopter Crashes

I had a concussion once, as a small child.

At that time, we lived on a dead-end street, in a small town in New York. The kids of Concord Avenue all played together, that last generation of 70s and 80s kids who got to do stuff without constant adult supervision.

We meandered through secret backyard paths and built forts amongst rhododendron bushes. We knew the names of the neighbourhood dogs: Sugarfoot, Snowball. We went to the playground at the end of our street, alone, the littler ones supervised by the not-much-older ones.

One day, someone had the brilliant idea to attach a metal wagon to the back of a bike with a length of rope, and take turns pulling each other in it.

I remember sitting in the back of the wagon, probably the smallest child there, as one of the older kids, Alex, pedalled like a spin-class junkie, with me yelling “Faster!” while the wagon fish-tailed. I remember gripping the metal sides of the red wagon, and then the moment of horrified anticipation as the left-side wheels tipped up once, then twice, then completely, spilling me out headfirst onto the road.

The moment of impact is gone from memory, head hitting concrete and the left side of my body leaving layers of epidermis behind. I do remember the screams of the other kids, rushing off to my house to tell my mother. I’m sure my brother helped me hobble home, though I don’t remember that either.

I do remember sobbing as bits of road grit were washed away and bandages applied. I don’t remember vomiting or driving to the hospital, but those things happened.

I do remember being in emerg. Alarming images float up, of staff wrestling a man, wild and flailing, whom I learned a long time later was drunk, according to my mother.

There is the face of a brisk nurse who made me cry by briskly ripping of all of my Band-Aids, as my mother protested.

“Ma’am, I have to inspect the wounds,” she said. My mother didn’t explain to me for many years why a nurse might have to inspect a child’s wounds in the ER.

And lastly, I remember the reflection of my small face in some kind of mirror above me as I lay still to have my head X-rayed. There were no long-term consequences of that accident. It became one of my childhood stories, an amusing one. Kids, you know!

Last Monday I found myself in the ER with my Lark. The day had dawned grim for me, a day in which I couldn’t shift my mood from cranky to light.

I made plans to meet friends at one of our local parks. Lark and I were on our own, with the other half of our family 15,000 km away in Australia.

We’ll get out of the house, I thought. The day will get better.

But, when the time came to go, Lark, who is mostly pretty agreeable, suddenly refused to agree. With an epic stubbornness, she flatly refused to come to the park. She didn’t want to go to that park, she only wanted to go to a different park, one that I don’t enjoy much. (I once wrote about how disappointing this particular park was to me when renovated, here.)

I cajoled, bribed, and threatened, but she wouldn’t budge. So, with me in a bit of a sulk, we set off for her parkette of choice, and I texted our friends that we weren’t coming.

As soon as we got there, Lark immediately began climbing around on top of the climbing structure. This is something that all of the older kids do there, because this newer piece of playground equipment was designed to be “safe” and therefore is only two feet from the ground.

The climber of discontent.

Please come down from up there, I said sternly. Not once, not twice, but several times.

Now, over the years, I have flown my parenting helicopter with extreme precision. I’ve been ready to swoop in and rescue. I don’t say this because I’m proud of it, it’s just a fact that I’ve had a very hard time watching my oldest, Bean, get hurt, because he has already suffered enough. So I’ve been watchful, ready, on high-alert.

That day though, my helicopter crashed. I was tired and in a bad mood and irritated that Lark wouldn’t stop clambering around where she wasn’t supposed to be.

As I stood only a foot away from her, I watched her climb up, lose her balance, catch at something on the way down, and then slam down on her face on the steps of the climber.

Horrified, I scooped her up while she wailed. Bruises appeared on her temple.

A mum friend from the area was nearby to help. She had an ice pack and relevant head-injury advice. I mumbled that I wished I’d been just a step closer to catch her. She said something along the lines of, If you were always there to catch her, she would never learn the consequences of her actions.

That is truth, right there. Although, it can be so hard to watch our children make mistakes, and be injured.

If I hadn’t fallen out of the wagon, I wouldn’t have learned that it’s probably not a good idea to ride in a vehicle attached to a bike by a bit of rope.

Lark has now learned that you shouldn’t climb on top of things that you have neither a firm grip on nor sturdy footing below.

She stopped crying and I carried her home. On the couch, she fell asleep and was difficult to wake. She woke and barfed. So, with a big sigh, we headed off to Sick Kids. We stayed in emerg. for about 6 hours. Doctors looked at her, we talked about imaging. She threw up again. She slept again.

And then she woke up. She picked up her markers and began colouring and making demands for food. She ate many snacks and chatted with a volunteer who I flagged down to help. She got out of bed and literally skipped down the hall. So we went home, and that’s the end of the story.

Kids, you know?

Rainbow Brite

Spring in Toronto this year has been a bit dull and cool and rainy.

The other day, to combat the weather, I opened up a pack of vibrant pastels that had been lying around forever, and my Lark spent the day drawing rainbows. All the rainbows.

If it’s a little overcast where you are or in your mind, I hope you enjoy these.

We did this together. She told me, “Mum, I’m a better artist than you are.” Agreed, babe.
“A Portal to Roatan.” If only.

I love when a child tries something new and then runs with it. She is now in love with pastels. I’m in love with what she’s done.

Not so thrilled about pastel on the couch, the dining table, coffee table and bedsheets, but I’ll live!