Archive for July, 2008

The height of foolishness

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

So, what do you do with two newly-minted 4 year olds after their memorable birthday supper. If you’re Aunt Karin and me, and the 4-year-olds have both had a long and late afternoon nap, you pile into one car and head for the CN Tower. If you were someone else, you might check first to see if the Blue Jays were playing in order to avoid the traffic jam but then you probably wouldn’t take two 4-year-olds out past their bedtime if you were that practical.

In any case, we found a place to park just across from the CN Tower and found the elevator we needed since the kids had chosen the stroller option. Who wouldn’t? Kids 4 and under enter for free and so it seemed a great deal at what is otherwise an expensive attraction. We’ll have to be sure to go back before Reid’s birthday next year just to save the money on *her* admission. Reid was definitely not impressed with the winds on the external observation deck. She wasn’t at all interested in looking down at the lights of the city. Dylan, on the other hand, looked down, out and all around. He posed for pictures and talked about all he was taking in. We were able to hear the cheers of the folks at the Blue Jays game, which was pretty cool since it doesn’t seem to be common that Jays fans have something to cheer about. (Go, Tigers!)

Once back inside, both Reid and Dylan spent lots of time dancing on, lying on and looking through the glass floor. I contented myself with taking pictures and staying well away from the glass. Logically, I know that the plexiglass is several inches thick and able to support 14 hippos but my fear of heights is more primal that logical.

After a leisurely exploration of the observation deck and a rush to find a bathroom for Dylan, we joined the line to go back to earth. The kids were so patient in waiting that you’d never believe it was as late as it was. I won’t tell you exactly *how* late since Ken and Melissa (and maybe Roy) will read this ;+) The line moved more quickly than I expected and soon we were in the gift shop looking for a hat for Uncle Dave. Sadly our search was unsuccessful.

Our departure coincided with the end of the Blue Jays game. You were expecting that, right? Dylan and Reid listened to Thomas the Tank Engine stories on cd while Aunt Karin and I discussed the selfishness of drivers who block 2 lanes of traffic, how to navigate using only the tourist map and the state of the world (or at least the lives and times of various relatives). Reid declared that she would ride to the hotel with Dylan and Aunt Karin while I drove alone in our car from the mall where we’d left it. The kids were tired when we got to the hotel but not too tired to ride on the luggage cart with Dylan and Aunt Karin’s bags. Not surprisingly, we all fell asleep quickly and slept in the next morning.

Two kids, two birthdays, too many gorillas

Friday, July 25th, 2008

 Is there a better way to celebrate turning 4 than to spend the weekend in Toronto with your cousin, who is turning 4 the very same day? Given the delight on Reid’s face as soon as she learned of our plans, Reid couldn’t think of anything better.

Aunt Karin and Dylan called us just as we were pulling into our parking place at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, home to Canada’s only Rainforest Cafe. It was 5:46 and our reservation was for 6:00. Who could have asked for better? Well, maybe Aunt Karin and Dylan could have – they spent more than an hour covering 10 kilometres near Cambridge – but we were all glad to meet up and get to supper. The “safari guide” who showed us to our table took us to the far back corner of the restaurant to find us a table close to a bunch of life-size animatronic gorillas who call out, beat their chests, shake trees and that sort of thing every 10 minutes. The kids were leery of the gorillas when we sat down but still a bit impressed. Impressed, that is, until the gorillas first began their performance. At the first bellow (do gorillas bellow?), Dylan and Reid each dove at the closest adult. After the commotion died down, Aunt Karin went outside and Dylan and Reid both sat on my lap. Our waitress noticed and offered to move us away from the gorillas. Dylan would have preferred the next restaurant over but we settled for across the room. The kids ordered mini hot dogs (3 on each plate) and fries. The gorillas did their thing a couple times, making it difficult to concentrate on eating. I ordered a volcano brownie dessert as the birthday cake. Dylan was willing to forgo a cake in order to leave sooner and Reid wanted to do what Dylan wanted but that didn’t come to light until after the dessert was ordered. After an interminable wait – there were many birthdays being celebrated – our volcano cake arrived, the staff sang and the sparkler burned itself out. Aunt Karin and I enjoyed the brownies, ice cream and fudge topping and Dylan ate a bit of the ice cream. Reid wasn’t interested in even the ice cream. There was still another adult-sized piece of brownie plus ice cream. The menu promised that the volcano was big enough for 2 – or more – and they were right. We got our $14.95 (or whatever) out of it. The kids food was what you would expect but $7.95 seems kind of expensive. Aunt Karin and I split an appetizer with shrimp, fajitas, cheese and spinach dip and calamari rings (which I’d thought were onion rings and neither of us ate) and a combo platter with ribs, chicken and veggies. Both dishes were okay but nothing special and both nearly $20 each. Another time, it might be better to go in for dessert only. The environment is very festive and fun – if you aren’t frightened by it – but the cuisine was a bit lacking.

Reid reassured Dylan that we wouldn’t go to anymore scary restaurants this weekend. She was quite concerned by his stress, even though he was less worried as the night went on and the gorilla’s noises and antics became more familiar. It was good that she cared but the poor man was getting “mothered” by two concerned aunties and adding a girl cousin might have put him over the top. But it didn’t.

For the record, neither of these two wonderful kids got a birthday message from me. I blame the loss of my Blackberry (newly returned – hooray!) and the craziness that was this week. But they will. Eventually.

Reid’s birthday party

Monday, July 21st, 2008

We hosted Reid’s first-ever official birthday party on July 19th. I had thought we’d stick to family and friends parties until after Reid started school to have a full-fledged party but some of the other kids – or parents – in her class had other ideas. Once you’ve attended three or four parties, it seems that you must throw one of your own. My first choice was to go to the Canada Agriculture Museum, or “the Farm” as Reid calls it, but Reid talked about Starr Gymnastics instead for awhile. Right about the time we needed to commit, Reid started talking about the Farm and so I made the necessary arrangements for a Mooving Experience birthday party. I swear I hadn’t pressured her at all. I think that Reid is liable to consider herself “too old” for a party at the Farm after this year whereas a gymnastics party will be cool for many years to come.

We invited all of the kids in Reid’s class to the party – that means 16 – plus Lizzie, her bestest-ever friend who changed daycares at the beginning of July. I had it on good advice that attendance at summer parties is low and so I would be safe inviting so many when the limit was 12 kids and 8 adults. Indeed, nearly a week after we passed out the invitations, only 3 kids were planning to attend. By the deadline for responses, we had 11 invited kids (and Reid) plus assorted siblings and way more than 8 adults planning to come. After the RSVP deadline, 2 more kids and their parents added their names to the “happy to accept” ranks. I was practicing my surprised face along with “Oh my goodness, I wasn’t expecting so many people.” I even hoped someone would be sick. Aren’t I awful?! I decided that honesty – and health – would be the better approach and called to see if we could book another guide to cover the overflow. Even at the last minute, the folks at the Farm were able to find another person to help us out. At some point in the process, I realized that the prestige associated with having attracted the francophone kids in Reid’s class came with the necessity to speak with them and their parents in French. (I can be a bit oblivious to such obvious things and, really, I hadn’t expected them to accept.) Since the Canada Agriculture Museum is a federal institution, the guides were bilingual and that meant all of the kids understood what was going on.

One of the people I spoke with on the phone recommended that we park close to the building where the party would be held and it made sense with all we needed to unpack. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask how to get through the gates into the main part of the farm. We had left for the museum later than we should have (yes, really, *I* was late) and so when I tried the closest gate and couldn’t get it to open I panicked a bit. Rather than continuing to try the obvious gate, I went in search of another. At the next locked gate, I lifted Reid over and then climbed the fence myself, all the while reassuring Reid that this was permitted since we had paid for the party. I met the first family to arrive about 50 metres from the entrance. If I’d scaled the first gate, we would have been on time. Alas, I was hoping to be rule-abiding. The kids and their families trickled in between 2 and 2:15 and I was glad that I’d planned to spend the first 30 minutes at the playground rather than starting right in the party room. I took a few group photos at a picnic table on the way to the party room and even got a shot where most of the kids were more-or-less looking at the camera.

Once in the party room, the kids coloured party hats – really head bands with line drawings on pigs on them – and then played a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-cow. Surprisingly enough, there were no tail-less cows in the party supply shop and I had to sweet talk Ken to put his considerable artistic skills to use and create the cow. Or at least I asked him once and he agreed immediately. Being talented, he was able to reproduce much of the scene from the front of the invitation and then he carefully coloured it with smelly markers.

The kids returned to their seats at the table and watched as Reid helped the guide mix the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract to make the ice cream. After the ingredients were mixed, they were put into the electric ice cream maker. Reid pushed the button to start the machine once the kids had shouted “Happy Birthday, Reid!” Then, it was time for our tour of the animal barns.

I was impressed with how well the guides were able to keep the group together as we walked between and through the buildings. I did many tours while I was working at historic sites and know that big groups can be trouble and ones with lots of adults all the more so. Kids are used to having to listen to adults while adults tend to talk whenever they want. We were lucky enough to see a couple of the Clydesdale horses having their saddles and equipment removed, which meant we saw them much more clearly than usual. One of the guides held a rabbit and each of the kids had a chance to pet it. In all of the times we’ve been to the Farm, Reid had never been allowed to pet the bunny before. The kids counted pigs (much fewer than when the small animal barn had) and spent time looking at Goody, the bull. One little guy asked his mom about Goody’s male-parts (which are quite impressive, it must be noted) and she squirmed a bit in responding. I’m surprised that Reid has never asked the question. For some reason, there were signs prohibiting people from petting the sheep which we usually do. It was too hot for me to consider touching the sheep’s wool but the kids would have enjoyed it. Just before leaving the large animal barn, the guide told us about Nel, a horse for riding instead of pulling, and offered to let Reid pet Nel’s nose. (It’s good to be the birthday girl, you know.) Reid refused. She is skittish about touching large animals. I’m not; I touched Nel’s nose instead.

I was at the front of the line when we got to the dairy barn, putting myself in the ideal position to take pictures. Except, of course, the hostess is expected to hold doors and so I did. Once everyone got in, I headed for the other door to loop around to the front. I stopped to help a family who didn’t want to get caught up in our group but didn’t know how else to get into the barn. Many of the kids and some of the adults pet a few of the calves once the guide had introduced them. Reid abstained. Calves are also “large animals” when you’re 3 feet tall. One of the moms commented that the calf she pet would circle its muzzle with its tongue when she rubbed its face. I suggested that she was seeing a rooting reflex, like when you rub your finger against a baby’s cheek. I might have been right, who knows? The only real pressure point of the day occurred when all of the kids who had touched the calves had to wash their hands. It was time well-spent, though, since our next activity involved food.

We went back to the party room to sample the ice cream that we’d made and also a cake that I’d ordered from Party Mart. The cake had a few Little People figures on top of it and a big “4″ candle plus four regular ones. It was surprisingly difficult to find a cake with a farm theme – Dora the Explorer and Disney Princess cakes are much more common. Thanks to Grandma Joyce’s timely intervention, we also had banana spice cupcakes. A couple of the moms complimented me on the cupcakes and I had to admit that I’d been in charge of the cream cheese icing but not the cupcakes.

I was surprised at the level of interest in the ice cream since only Reid and the guides had been directly involved in the making of it. Even the adults were eager for a sample, though. Uncle Roger sagely pointed out that it was easier to accept that the birthday girl would get to assist but not you than if some, but not all, of the others had helped the guides. It’s good to have an older and wiser brother around to explain such things.

Reid actually ate some of the cake, unlike at the past few parties we’ve attended. Most of the other kids focused on the ice cream though no one actually cleaned their plates. We had discussed cutting pieces in 2″ X 2″ squares but decided they’d look awfully skimpy. In fact, a significant proportion of the cake went into the garbage. We would have just thrown away less. And I might have gotten a piece. (Not that I’m bitter ;+) I’d ordered a half-chocolate/half-white cake but got one that was all white. I love store-bought white cake. Sick, isn’t it?

Reid remembered her manners when opening her presents, opening them slowly and saying “thank you” after each. We’d rehearsed saying “thank you”, even for a crumpled and already-used Kleenex, a smelly shoe, a toy that she already owns. Well, at first we practiced but soon Reid started saying she’d reply “no, thanks” or would give it to me. She had a devilish smile when she said these things, which let me know she knew the right thing to say. I couldn’t be sure she’d remember though. All of the presents were well-chosen. I would have preferred if the Princess Barbie Doll hadn’t emerged from it’s bag but Red was happy to it. (And we haven’t lost Barbie’s shoes yet!) She also received a couple of books, a doll who sings a French song when you hold her hands, a Dora dress-up chest, a couple necklaces, brightly painted letters to spell her name, some play jewelry and a Little Mermaid game. I’m not sure about a game whose premise is to help a girl who is looking for her prince but since we haven’t played it yet, I can’t really comment.

In retrospect, I’d do a few things differently. Since one of the little guys was bleeding pretty good fifteen minutes into the party, I would bring a mini First Aid kit, some bandages and a bottle of water to clean out the scrapes. We could have tracked down a staff member but the mom had bandages in her car. I definitely would bring a blind fold for the “pin the tail” game since it would seem that the vast majority of attendees at a 4 year old’s birthday party open their eyes (including the birthday girl).

On the other hand, I got some things right the first time. The name tag stickers were very useful (maybe some for the parents would be useful) and the group photo was a hit. Cleaning up the Kalas cups, bowls, plates and cutlery from Ikea wasn’t any more difficult than using disposables (washing up balanced against all the garbage) and the flannelette napkins and table cloth (thanks, Grandma Joyce) were a real hit with the kids, parents and guides and washed up easily. Having all of these things packed and ready in a box for Reid’s next party is a great relief for me, Ken and the environment.

At the end of the party, we received the nicest compliment. One of the mom’s said that she’d enjoyed attending the party because we were so laid back and hadn’t been upset by her kids who, she said, are destructive. Really, they’re a 4-year-old boy who acts like a 4-year-old boy and an 18-month-old who similarly acts her age. Still, I’m glad she enjoyed herself and found us welcoming. Someone else mentioned that they had thought my organization of the party extended to hiring a photographer until she realized that Uncle Roger was so much more than that. How much did Ken and I appreciate having an extra adult to help out? VERY MUCH! (Thanks, Roger.)

After all was said and done, Uncle Roger took Reid back to the playground to play with a few of the families who had decided to stay for a bit and Ken and I went out for dinner. We’re super-lucky like that sometimes.

More thoughts on Reid’s future career

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Ken and I often talk about the sorts of careers that Reid may seek out based on her behaviour as a young girl. When she was quite small and most interested in knocking over the towers of wooden blocks that we wood build for her, we talked about her being a military engineer. There was the time I thought she might want to be Rowdy Reidie the Wrestler, a cowboy phase, and our on-going conviction that Reid would find great success as an actress or, at the very least, a teenage drama queen.

More recently I’ve been thinking that Reid might find her calling as a lactation consultant. In addition to her nearly four years of first-hand experience, Reid has been practicing helping others to nurse. At various points over the years, Reid has brought her stuffed animals and dollies with her to nurse. Reid makes sure that their heads are in an appropriate position to receive the milkies that she loves so much. She was sharing with Thomas, the Care Bear, one night last week when she experienced an “aha moment”. She stopped nursing and went to find Baby-with-a-round-mouth (not all of the stuffies and dollies are lucky enough to get a people name). The doll in question came with a soother and so has a mouth that is formed into an “o”, rather than the traditional wide-mouth of a nursing baby but it was certainly closer to the right thing than the smile sewn onto Thomas’ face.

Then again, Reid has always been interested in buses. She was tiny when she first fell in love with school buses and has since generalized this love to all buses. She had been able to twist her tongue, more or less, around “articulated” to describe the extra-long city buses we see on the streets of Ottawa. On Sunday, we saw the Lady Dive Tours‘ amphibus. I explained that it was a sort of bus-boat. Reid liked the idea and wondered if it was a double-decker bus. I explained that it wasn’t and Reid told me that when she is bigger, she will have a double-decker boat-bus. She and I would drive the lower floor and Daddy would drive the top floor, she said. Upon further reflection, Reid decided that she wanted a really long bus so that the whole world could ride if they wanted. I proposed an articulated bus and Reid agreed that would be good. (I write this so that I can prove to the teenage Reid that she didn’t always think that I was clueless.)

On the way to Reid’s optometrist appointment on Wednesday, Ken had explained that she would be seeing another kind of doctor, drawing a parallel between our family doctor, dentist and the optometrist. He told her that he, himself, was a different kind of doctor – a doctor of history. Once home they told me of the discussion and she said that Ken was a big doctor of history and she wanted to be a little doctor of history. Ken and I thought that was a good thing. But then Reid suggested that I could be a middle-sized doctor of history. Ken and I both said “no” (though he was perhaps a bit more forceful than me). We explained that Daddy had worked long and hard to be a doctor of history and that I hadn’t done that work. Reid likes the exclusive club of being the little doctor of history to Ken’s big doctor of history.

In the end, though, I’m left wondering if the career Reid will have even exists yet. She speaks about being an astronaut sometimes. Maybe that will be more of a reality than most of the jobs that come to our minds at present.

Celebrating Ken

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Pride goes before a fall, you know, and that holds just as true for birthdays. I was congratulating myself as Reid and I wrapped Ken’s present for having made him something ourselves and then kept it a secret. Okay, we had it for only 36 hours or so but it was still quite an accomplishment compared to the first aid kit I’d picked up that he saw before I had even brought it in from the car or the Cookie Monster glass that Reid told Ken about as soon as she saw him when we got back from the grocery store. I was thinking this way right up until I realized that the cellophane tape I thought was in the drawer, wasn’t. As I went to the basement to choose between black duct tape and green painter’s tape, I reminded myself that pride was a sin.

Reid had decided that we needed to set the table and then hide before Ken came downstairs so that we could yell, “surprise” when he came into the kitchen. Luckily enough for me, Reid decided to hide in the pantry rather than in a cramped location – at 6:45, I am less flexible than I might hope. Ken took the long route down from the bedroom but we still managed to say quiet until he finally came into the kitchen and then we yelled (but quietly) “Surprise!”. Ken looked more confused than surprised. It seems that he knew it was his birthday and had expected that Reid and I would be in the house when he came downstairs.

Reid was far too excited to wait until breakfast was finished for Ken to open his cards and present.  Given that I was still a bit proud, but in a humble way, of our present, I didn’t want her to spill our secret. Ken opened his cards first and was suitably impressed that Reid wrote both “Daddy” and “Reid” by herself in the card from him. She scooped my surprise by telling him that his card from me would make “smack, smack, smack” kissing sounds when he opened it and then as he pulled the bag out from the wrapping paper she blurted, “It’s a tray!” And, indeed, it was a small wooden tray that was the perfect size to hold Ken’s cereal bowl and spoon. The one end isn’t perfectly aligned but then the same could be said of me. ;+)

We made the tray at the Canadian Children’s Museum workshop as part of the Bob the Builder, Project: Build It exhibit. There was a supply of kits from Home Depot to choose from, with all of the wood cut, nails counted and directions provided. It was just the right level of complexity for builders like me and Reid. When Reid is 5, and old enough to attend a kids’ workshop at Home Depot (sorry no Canadian link), we will definitely seek them out.

After gymnastics – yes, Ken got to attend a live entertainment event for his birthday – Reid and I stuck 14 candles into an angel food cake and she sang Happy Birthday to him mostly solo. I had started with her but realized that she didn’t need my assistance. If you’re wondering why “14″ contains the same digits as Ken’s real age but not in the right order.  After the song, Ken blew out the candles all in one breath. Reid was much impressed!

Ken’s birthday is one of my favourite days of the year. Sometimes I think that I am more excited by it than he is. He is pretty low-key and I’m more romantic. If he hadn’t been born, how different my life would be. I am grateful for his birth and will celebrate the day, to his embarassment perhaps, and share the importance of it with Reid.