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!

When Things Go Wrong

I’m having one of those weeks.

One of those is obviously code for somewhat crappy.

Monday morning, as I was getting the bikes out of the shed to take the kid to school, Bean suddenly piped up behind me, “I hate to tell you this, Mum, but there’s something really furry up there on that shelf.” A quick glance revealed a raccoon, curled up in a ball, sleeping. If you are not from Canada, you may not understand why this was an annoying discovery. Raccoons are cute, nocturnal, territorial, destructive and hard to get rid of.  With a sigh, I ignored the fuzz-ball and left for school.

Tuesday, I learned that we have signs of termites in our house. “Not a major infestation,” the inspector informed me. Ugh. Isn’t any kind of infestation bad news? We are in the midst of home renos, a time during which it is important to remain very, very calm even in the face of termites. “Hmmm, okay,” I said, very, very calmly. Then he handed me a quote for several thousand dollars worth of termite-termination.

The next day I got a text from my contractor, telling me my cheque had bounced. “Hmmm, okay,” I texted back. Further investigation revealed this was due to bank ineptitude and was resolved the same day. Phew.

Later on that day, as I was about to sit down for a picnic in the park with friends, my phone rang. It was my son’s school. “Bean’s not feeling well,” said the secretary. With a sigh, I collected him. We’d organized an appointment at the hospital that afternoon which I’d rather hoped he could keep, but in the end had to cancel.

Which brings us to today. This morning at the park, I saved my daughter from an almost epic bail off the climber, which left me breathless and shaking with adrenaline. This afternoon, I didn’t manage to save her as she tripped in Rowe Farms and slammed the side of her face into the corner of the counter. And this evening, I locked her in the car.

Yes, you read that right. I locked her in the car and had no way to open it.

Here’s how this went down: I’d organized with my sister to babysit my two, while I got a hair cut this evening, and we agreed to get takeout from a place we both like.

Before her arrival with my niece, I cajoled Lark into hopping in the car to drive over to pick up the food, and was chuffed to get a parking spot right out the front of the restaurant.

Food secured, we returned to the vehicle, and that’s when the shenanigans began.

Of late, my daughter is a total imp when it comes to buckling up. She decides she wants to sit in her brother’s booster. She climbs into the front and starts playing with the high-beams. She wriggles her little body in such a way that I cannot, for the life of me, do up the clips of her seat-belt. I’m torn between hilarity and frustration, dying to laugh but also trying to keep a stern face as I bark at her to GET INTO HER SEAT. Usually, there are threats. No Paw Patrol. Daddy’s doing bedtime for the rest of the week, etc. Generally, these don’t work.

Tonight, she scampered into the driver’s seat and started pressing every single button she could lay her little hands on. Most of the time, this means that when I start the car I’ll be turning off the windshield wipers and turn signal. I should also add that our car is old and low-tech, so this isn’t really that big of a deal.

Often, my biggest concern is the time-crunch. I’m standing there, waiting for her to decide she’s done playing, as the minutes tick by, and suddenly that comfortable 15-minute buffer to get wherever we have to be, has dwindled away. Then I have to resort to brute force, which I hate.

This evening, I watched her manipulate the steering wheel and jab her finger repeatedly on the hazards. I made a few attempts to lure her into the back seat, “Auntie will be waiting for us.” “Aren’t you hungry? It’s almost time for dinner!”

Finally, after this went on for ten minutes, she climbed out of the driver’s seat, got in her seat and allowed her clips to be done up without fighting me. I immediately felt that parental wash of relief that you get when your wild-card child is contained in a way which prevents them from engaging in any more silliness.

I closed her door and marched around to the driver’s side. The door was locked. A shot of sheer panic went through me. Naturally, I checked the other doors, just to be sure, knowing that they were also locked. She had locked them in her button-pushing frenzy. And had put the car keys on the passenger seat along with the food and my wallet.

As with home renos, in these situations, it’s important to remain very, very calm. My daughter called to me through the window, but wasn’t upset at all. Yet.

Quickly I assessed the situation. I needed the second set of car keys. They were at home. My sister was on her way there. I pulled out my phone. If this was the movies, my phone battery would’ve been flat. But it’s real-life, so I had 20% charge left. I called her and rapidly explained the situation. She was stuck in traffic, far from us and still at least half an hour away. Damn.

My next thought was CAA. I called their helpline and began listening to elevator music while a soothing voice informed me that they were experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls.  The same voice also told me to hang up and call 911 if this was an emergency. Was this an emergency? I wasn’t sure.

I was starting to not feel very, very calm.

I could see now why parents go mental in these situations. I thought back to how my mother had famously chopped the bathroom door down with an axe when my sister locked herself in there at the age of 3, and stopped responding to questioning. She was fine. The door was not so fine.

Suddenly, a light-bulb appeared above my head. I have neighbours! Neighbours who might be home and whom I can call! Rapidly, I pulled up my friend J’s number and rang it. She answered! She was home! She had her car there! She grabbed her daughter and they ran across to our house. I guided her to our hidden key and to where the extra set of car keys was. She was on her way.

The solution was approaching. I continued to smile and wave at Lark.  She kept smiling back. I resisted the urge to find something heavy and smash the window open.

A few minutes later, J and her daughter appeared and joined me and another friend who’d happened to be passing by. We unlocked the car and opened the door. Everyone cheered. Bemused, my daughter looked at all of us surrounding her.

It felt strange to not immediately take her out of her seat, but it had only been 15 minutes. Waving goodbye to our saviours, I drove home, and then took her out of her seat and held her.

I held her so tightly, thankful that it wasn’t a hot day. Thankful that I have great neighbours. Thankful that if I had needed to, I could’ve called 911 and help would have been there in a minute.

 

 

 

Screen-Free Sundays

A few weeks back, I was hiding in my bedroom, trying to find ways to free up storage on my phone, which had reached capacity and was in a feeble state. I heard Bean looking for me around the house, while I continued tapping away at my device, in stealth mode.

“Mum! Muuuuum. Where are you?” He bounced into my room and saw me holding my phone. “Hey!” he said accusingly. “Isn’t this supposed to be screen-free Sunday?”

It was. It was our very first screen-free Sunday – a family initiative that I had announced to general groans the previous week. The other household members were doing pretty well with this new thing, but I was failing miserably at it, as I just needed to do one more thing on my phone. All the time.

“What IS a screen-free day?” you might ask. There are a few iterations on this theme: screen-free weeks, social media detoxes, screen breaks, etc. Basically, it means taking a break, (of some pre-determined period) from screens in all their forms. Phones, iPads, TVs, video games, and so on. I knew that a screen-free week wasn’t realistic for our family, but I imagined that a full Sunday would be a refreshing break from being nose-down in some sort of tech all the time.

The first thing that I hoped to gain from it was to back my daughter off of her Paw Patrol habit. Every morning, she asks to watch Paw Patrol before she even eats breakfast. Even though we have a hard and fast rule that we don’t watch any TV before school. I know why she thinks I’ll suddenly relent though, because to be honest, depending on the day, I sometimes allow her to watch 2 or 3 episodes in a row – in the afternoon. This is usually when I’m desperate to get something done and having her absorbed in a show is a welcome break from the unceasing two-year-old-ness.

The last few Sundays have been kinda great when the kids have wanted to watch some telly, and we could be all, Sorry, no, it’s screen-free Sunday. And they were like, Awwwww, okaaaaaay. On the flip side, after the kids went to bed, Craig and I realized that we couldn’t watch our show on Netflix either because…it’s screen-free Sunday. So, one Sunday night, I ended up reading a chapter of The Magician’s Nephew with Bean and then fell asleep. At 9:45. For once, I got 8 hours of sleep instead of my usual 6.5.

Realistically though, the kids’ TV habits are the least of my problems. The world and the technology we now use daily is so different from what it was even 10 years ago. About a month ago, Lark called me over to where she was playing. “Do you want to watch a video on my phone?” she asked me, holding up her hot pink plastic smartphone. Thankfully, it doesn’t light up or make noise, except in her imagination.

“Sure!” I said. “Who’s in this video?” “Me and Ginger,” she said. “See?” She tapped the fake screen with one small finger. We both pretended to watch it for a moment, and then she moved on to a different game. On another occasion, she brought the phone over to me and asked, “Shall we FaceTime with Bubby?” Almost every day, she – relentlessly – asks to look at photos on my phone, play iPad, watch children’s clips on YouTube or check out videos of her and her brother.

These are the realities our children are growing up with. Hundreds of videos and photos of themselves to view whenever they like. Every episode of every show that they love on demand. All of their video games available to play for as long as they want. None of this pay-25-cents-then-you-die crap that we grew up with.

As much as I may lament, or at the very least, ponder the implications of all of this for my kids, the next obvious question is: What about the adults? 

What’s happening to all of the grown-ups who spend more time each day doing stuff on their phones than, well, anything else? Who did my daughter learn from that a smartphone is such an endlessly fascinating device?

Recently, on the same topic, I heard an interesting interview on CBC Radio’s The Current, with Adam Alter, the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked. Alter explores how addictive technologies like social media can be destructive to our human interactions, and also what we can do to create some distance from them.

Personally speaking, I’m completely addicted to my phone, and I’m well aware of that. Hence, screen-free Sundays. I’m sure that many of you can relate to that feeling, half-panic, half-despair, that you have when you think you’ve left your phone at home. And then the consequent rush of relief when you realize it’s actually in your bag. I don’t even want one of those apps that tells you how many times a day you’ve looked at your phone or whatnot. Because, yeah, it’s a lot.

I’m not making an argument for chucking our phones out and returning to Morse code and carrier pigeons. The Internet is amazing and I can’t imagine living without it. Our devices enable so much ease in our lives, as one Sunday when I used my phone to book an Uber to go to my parents’ house for my niece’s birthday party. I’m trying, though, to create a little mindfulness around using it, rather than picking it up all the time as an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction to boredom. My husband and I mock each other when one of us pauses a show to get a drink, and the other immediately picks up his/her phone, because the Lord knows we can’t be alone with our thoughts for an entire minute and a half.

Okay, we do bend the rules of screen-free Sunday for certain things: when we need to Skype Australia, check the weather, quickly reply to a text message, or order an Uber as mentioned above. If we are doing something memorable, then we’ll use our phones to take photos. And quickly post them to Facebook or Instagram. Just kidding. I do that on Mondays.

For the most part though, we have to pick up the phone, not get distracted by it, and complete the task at hand. Sundays make us more thoughtful about using screens. We all have to find other things to do, together and alone, so we’ve been doing more reading and playing games. And even better, getting more sleep.

During that 20-minute Uber ride to north Toronto, I couldn’t sit there and scroll through various feeds, or text people, or put things in my calendar, or whatever it is I do all the time on my phone, so I chose instead to stare out the window and just be. My driver was skimming through an oldies playlist, and I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos came on. Spring sunshine was streaming in, I was relishing the quiet of being alone without a small person clambering on me, and I had one of those dreamy moments where a song on the radio becomes the perfect soundtrack to your day. Everything seems to blur around you, as you really notice a song for the first time, although you’ve heard it many times before.

With my phone in my hand, that moment would have been lost.

Or captured forever on Instagram. #uberselfie #theflamingos #bestsongever

 

For more on this topic:

http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/spark/segment/12390509

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-may-15-2017-1.4112604/why-technology-is-addictive-and-what-to-do-about-it-1.4112606

http://adamalterauthor.com/irresistible/

 

 

 

5 Reasons Australia Rules

When people find out that my husband is originally from Australia, I usually end up fielding a few questions about it. How’d you meet, Is his family still there, Does he like it here, and the inevitable: WHY did you choose to live in Toronto and not Sydney? (Subtext: Are you crazy?)

Yeah, it’s a hard one. On February days, when it’s a grey -22 degrees, and everything is covered in salt, and my car just got stuck on an ice bank whilst trying to park, and the inside of my nostrils is frozen, I ask myself the same question. These are problems that just don’t exist in Australia. In truth, I adore life down under, but being there doesn’t make sense for us right now. Life is pretty great in Canada most of the time, so we continue our day-to-day in The 6ix.

BUT. As a foreigner, whenever I visit Australia, I can’t help but compare Sydney to my hometown, and I have to admit, Toronto comes up short in a few areas. Both cities are the largest of their respective countries. Both are vibrant, multi-cultural centres of business and the arts. Both have amazing beaches… oh wait, that’s just Sydney.

Bondi

I’m not talking about the obvious factors like sunshine 362 days a year, world-class beaches and charming marsupial wildlife. There are a few other areas of comparison in which we in Toronto could really pull up our socks.  So many things about our city are fabulous, but there are some things that have me rolling my eyes and muttering, “Come on, Toronto, we can do better than this.”

  1. PLAYGROUNDS

I’m not sure if it’s because they live in a country infested with extremely poisonous critters, but Australians have very different attitudes than Canadians when it comes to safety. Nowhere is this so evident as in each city’s playgrounds. Most cities in Australia are home to tonnes of beautiful parks, where the children’s playgrounds are areas for fun, play, exploration, and yes, a hint of danger. All of the latest research on child development finds that children should be exposed to a healthy amount of risk. This advice has definitely been taken to heart down under, as proven by this:

IMG_7224

And this:

IMG_4067

And this:

IMG_4066

And this:

IMG_1406
National Arboretum Canberra

As any Torontonian parent can tell you, many of our playgrounds are in dire need of an upgrade, often sporting rusty old equipment that dates back to the 70’s.

Space Rocket

And unfortunately, when room is finally found in the budget for new equipment, the results can be disappointing, as when the play structure was recently replaced at the small park nearest to us.

Fuller Parkette

Cries of dismay were heard around the neighbourhood. If it isn’t obvious from the photo, this structure is about two feet off the ground. Shiny and new? Yes. Elements of risk? No, unless the child happens to be under the age of two. I’ve never seen “flying foxes” in any of Toronto’s parks, like the one you can see my son whizzing along on above. There couldn’t be any, unless there was someone there handing out helmets and getting people to sign waivers. Because safety, everyone.

Trust me, this is all coming from one of the world’s worst helicopter parents, but even see the advantages of allowing our children to experiment with adventure and learn from their own mistakes, and our parks should be places to let them do that.

2. TRANSIT

As I lack a degree in urban planning, I’m definitely not qualified to comment on public infrastructure. Of course, I’m going to anyway. According to this stats site, Canada and Australia rank very near to each other when it comes to public infrastructure. Therefore, my opinion on this matter is based on my own, highly subjective experiences.

No one who regularly takes transit in Toronto could possibly rave about the TTC. We are still glacially phasing out tokens as a form of payment. In 2016. Our subways run efficiently… until they don’t. Then they fail us in a most spectacular way. Our streetcars are mired in gridlock, and city council has been bogged down in transit squabbles for what feels like decades.

TTC Closure

Sydney’s transit system may not make international Top 10 lists, but at least it wins the beauty contest. Starting a morning commute with a ferry-ride across one of the world’s most scenic harbours definitely beats finding out that the Bloor Line is closed for track-work again  – after you’ve taken the bus to the station.

Ferry2

Each time I visit Sydney they seem to be installing another light-rail line, building another tunnel under the city or recreating the ticketing system. In Toronto…still waiting.

3. PUT ANOTHER SHRIMP ON THE…

Sometimes it’s the little things that make life in the big city better. One such thing that I’ve always admired about Sydney is this:

BBQ

“What is that?” Canadians are asking. Australians are just shrugging. “What? There’s one of these in practically every park in the country.” This, my friends, is a public barbecue. They are there for public use, and at the most popular spots are heavily utilized. There are barbecues in some Toronto parks! someone out there is saying. Yes, some. Only, you have to bring your own charcoal. You can bring your own portable barbecue, but you need to buy a permit in order to use it.

4. BOOZE

From the Australian standpoint, there are few events in life that aren’t made better by a drink or two. Most Canadians probably agree, but we’re hampered in our drinking by puritanical laws that prevent us from indulging in wild excess. One such law stipulates that alcohol in Ontario can only be sold in government-sanctioned branches of the LCBO and the Beer Store. These operations keep fairly normal hours, but they close at an archaic 6:00 on Sunday evenings, meaning if you want a bottle of wine of a Sunday night, sorry! Only recently has beer been made available for sale in some supermarkets and we are unreasonably excited about it. We are also not allowed to drink in public. Anywhere. So when you haul your portable barbecue – with permit, naturally – or bag of charcoal to the local park, you will not be able to enjoy a beer with your sausages.

Hence, the other day I read with envy an Australian friend’s Facebook post describing how she’d celebrated her birthday with friends and a bottle of champagne at her kid’s soccer practice. How much better would soccer be with champagne? Am I right, moms and dads? Isn’t everything made better by champagne! Birthdays aside, Australians have an endearing habit of breaking out the bubbles on just about any occasion. It’s Wednesday! Yay, let’s have champagne!

Champagne

5. LAID-BACKNESS

Obviously, that’s a terrible adjective, but I think it describes a certain je ne sais quoi in the Australian character. Maybe it’s all the champagne-drinking, but people in Sydney, and even more so in small-town Australia, tend to be pretty relaxed. It could be due to the fact that an inordinate amount of an Australian’s weekend time is spent lounging on their world-class beaches and having barbecues with their mates. It could be the fantastic weather. Maybe loads of Vitamin D just chills one out.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, whenever I ask friends and acquaintances how life is, I get the same response: “Good! But… we’re so busy these days.” And my response is, “Yeah, me too. We’re really busy too.” Busy working? Busy cooking and cleaning? Busy shovelling the snow off the driveway? Busy posting about our busy lives on Instagram?

Sigh. Busy can be good too. But it’s summer y’all! And this summer I’m taking a page from the Australian laid-back playbook. There will be picnics and barbecues. (Oh don’t worry, I’m getting that permit!) I’m going to hang out at the beach, even if Bondi is one million times better. And at soccer practice, that’ll be me with the champagne – come and join me. (As long as you don’t mind drinking out of plastic cups and pretending it’s juice. I don’t want to get arrested.)