Stroller Battleground

This morning I woke up to a news story that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission for those of you not from around these parts) is being asked to investigate measures to LIMIT the number of strollers allowed on transit during peak hours. The wonderful citizen (and a woman, no less) who raised this also suggested an extra $2 stroller fare ON TOP of the parent’s existing transit fee, which is now $3 per ride.

http://www.cp24.com/news/woman-urges-ttc-to-limit-charge-for-child-strollers-1.1124057

Sure enough, I went on my Twitter to find that it had exploded with moms raising their objections (I was one of them!).

Here’s the thing. I totally get that strollers are a pain in the butt. I pushed one of those things around for about 6 years straight and I can tell you that they do take up a lot of space and can be unweildy and awkward when you have to go on transit or into smaller retailers and restaurants. Strollers have also gotten really really big. Maybe unecessarily so, but I would argue that a stroller was our family’s main method of transportation for many years, and we needed the extra room for diaper bags, and groceries. Also, smaller umbrella strollers seem to be made for those well under 5’5 and I would have long ago developed some kind of hunchback or major spinal problem had I pushed one for all those years. And quite frankly, it is incredibly nerve wracking to bring a flimsy umbrella stroller onto a full streetcar because it is so low, leaving your child virtually unprotected from the surrounding people who press against it.

Strollers were a major consideration when we moved into our current house. We had a 2 1/2 year old, one on the way, and no car. No way were we buying off the subway line and becoming dependent on busses or streetcars. Why? Because there was no way I could lug strollers on and off, but also because I knew how stressful it was when you dared try to take your kid onto a relatively busy mode of public transit. The stink eye and attitude you get from other travellers was something I knew I could not handle on a regular basis.

So, here’s what I have to say to the TTC stroller haters. Lighten up and get some freaking perspective people! Do you think we parents (mostly moms, let’s face it) bring stroller onto the TTC just to piss you off? We are going to or from doctor’s appointments, and daycares, running errands, and living our lives. Just to get onto transit, we have to exhibit superhuman feats of strength and coordination getting the damned strollers up and down stairs and escalators. We park awkwardly on the bus because nobody has the courtesy to shove over a little and let us through to a more out-of-the way-location. Maybe it will shock you, but we moms are actually reluctant to use OUR CHILDREN as battering rams to force people to move out of our way, especially when dude with the big backpack or lady with the monster sized handbag keeps turning around and almost hitting my kid in the head because they aren’t paying any attention to what is going on around them.

To the woman who decided to bring up this complaint in the first place, I say ‘thank you’ for being incredibly selfish and self-serving and setting feminism back a good couple of years. Did it never occur to you that many of the people who take strollers on transit HAVE NO OTHER MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION? There are many single parents out there who can barely afford the $3 fare for themselves, never mind a $2 surcharge on a stroller! Or would you rather they and their children just stay home and keep our of your line of sight? Because I get the impression you seem to think that public transit is only for those middle to upper class suburban Torontonians who can pat themselves on the back because they are helping the environment by driving their minivans to the nearest subway stop and then taking transit into the city.

EVERY citizen of this city has the right to be on public transit whenever they damned well need to be. Yes, that sometimes means waiting for the second or even third bus or streetcar before you can get on. And sometimes it means that a baby in a stroller will be crying because of the crush of people around it and the mother’s physical inability to pick it up and soothe it on a packed train. If the whole thing is making you so miserable that you need to launch an official complaint with the TTC about it, then maybe you should consider relocating and cutting down on your own, obviously miserable, commute. Or maybe you should get yourself a car and make the trip in to work through our lovely commuter traffic. Let’s see how quickly you change your tune then!

Carnivores R Us

Saturday was a rainy day here in Toronto and by lunchtime, I was starting to get restless. Muppet has been working crazy hours lately, which means he has been getting about 5-6 hours a sleep every night when he really needs at least 7. He has this uncanny ability to bank sleep though, which means that if he can stay in bed until 11am even once, he’s good to go for another week of deadlines. While he was snoozing away, I decided I just needed to get out for a bit and as I looked across the room at Mini Me glued to the computer and his Minecraft game, I formulated a plan to bring him with me. I knew that to get him away from that computer screen, I would need something enticing, something intriguing, something delicious, something… meaty!

Mini Me is a carnivore through and through and that boy has never met a sausage he hasn’t liked. We often buy them from the St. Lawrence Market which is in downtown Toronto and where you can get a great variety of good quality, lean meat sausages. I wanted a bit of an adventure on our rainy day, though. I wanted to try out a meat store that had opened in our ‘hood and which was rumoured to have fantastic fresh, farm raised meats as well as homemade sausages in a huge variety of flavours.

When I mentioned this to Mini Me, his eye lit up like it was Christmas morning. As an added bonus, I promised we would stop for a croissant at a nearby coffee shop (mainly because I needed a caffeine fix). He actually squealed with glee at that one. So, off we went.

I love going for walks with Mini Me. It’s when we have some of our best chats. Those conversations make it all worthwhile when it’s the middle of winter and I’m grumping about slogging through snowbanks because we don’t have a car. The walk down was mostly filled with tedious and very detailed descriptions of his Minecraft game, so I smiled and nodded where appropriate and put in some pretty sensible comments, considering I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about half the time. When we got to our destination, after about half and hour’s walk, we were greeted with this…

Wait, there’s more…

Sorry, any of you vegetarians out there for the graphic display of meat porn. We stood staring at the display case, astounded by the sheer variety of sausages. All hand-made, all naturally raised meat, and the smell in that place was AMAZING.

I let Mini Me take the reins and I was surprised by the ones he picked out. Pork and Potato with Leek, Spinach and Ricotta, Moroccan with Cinnamon, Blueberry and Pork. Then he asked if they had anything that was a bit spicier, so the butcher recommended their Buffalo sausage.  I was like “Buffalo spice like the wings?” and the butcher said “No. Buffalo like the animal.” “We’ll take two,” said Mini Me. That’s my boy!!

We left the butcher with our prize and headed over to the coffee-house for a treat. We chatted, drank, ate, and avoided a downpour in the cozy little cafe which I love but which we hardly ever visit. Being so transit reliant, the butcher and coffee shop both are not on the subway line, so we just don’t get down to that ‘hood very often. I really want to remedy that.

As we walked home, we had some great conversations about the kinds of summer job he wants to have while in high school (lifeguarding), which high school he would attend (the local academic high school. He says the arts high school is better suited for Monkey), and when he could have another Junior Nerd Night (next weekend for Dungeons and Dragons). We looked at the houses we were passing and noticed some interesting architecture…

As well as a very stubborn snail who we tried to pry off the middle of the sidewalk but who was determined to stay put.

It was such a great afternoon. My little boy is growing up. He has interesting things to say and is getting adventurous with the things he likes to eat. He really pays attention to what is around him and has so much love and compassion. He’s learning to love architecture  and the city he lives in. I can’t wait to see what kind of man he is going to be.

Oh, and the unanimous favourite in the sausage department? Buffalo. Who knew?

Super Awesome Weekend of Fun Part Deux – Street Party

One of the things I love about our neighbourhood is that there is a huge sense of community. It’s like living in a small town smack in the middle of Toronto. We had our 14th annual street party on Saturday. It was run by a couple of mums on the street until about 3 years ago when they decided to hand over the reins to myself and Muppet. It’s a lot of work but I love how everybody pulls together to make it happen year after year. What I love most though, is seeing how the next generation is taking ownership of the party and making it their own.

Ask any kid who has lived on our street for more than a year and they will tell you that the street party is their favourite day of the year (except maybe Christmas). It starts at noon with a hot dog BBQ for the kids, then off to the local park for the Olympics, which Muppet runs with the help of some other dads. There are obstacle courses and team tag games and the grand finale is a water balloon toss which quickly devolves into all out war between the kids and the adults. The kids then all continue the water fight in the wading pool while the adults pick up the shredded balloons. Back to the street for face painting, tattoos, crafts, paper airplane races, sidewalk chalk and bubbles. The street is blocked from traffic by two huge cloth banner strung between lamp posts. The first banner was made 14 years ago by the kids who lived here then, the second made 3 years ago by the next generation, covered in with designs, names, and hand prints.

Once the kids are suitably adorned, we have a parade up and down the street, followed by a group photo. As I looked around this year though, I realized that there is a whole new dynamic on the street now. Those kids who were around for the inception of the party are teenagers now, some are off at university, and others are just ending high school. There is a whole new generation of kids around the age of my own and yet another group of babies who are 2 and under. There are now well over 50 kids on the street and the majority are under the age of 12.

There is a potluck dinner after the parade and then the kids all play while the adults sit and chat, have adult beverages, and get to know each other or catch up. I was thrilled this year by how many new neighbours came out to participate and I have never seen such a big crowd for the evening’s events. What thrilled me even more though was all of the kids and how this party has come to mean tradition and joy and community for them.

The kids stage an elaborate game of cops and robbers after dinner which was started all those years ago by the kids who are now teenagers. They taught the younger ones and played with them and now my kids teach those who are younger than them how it goes. Most of the teenagers still come to the party and they are now the ones who help run the Olympics and encourage the toddlers who are trying so hard to participate. They do face painting and adorn the little ones in temporary tattoos. This year, one of the teenaged boys was our official photographer and he took some lovely photos which he set to music and presented to us all after dinner as a little slide show. His friend has become our DJ, complete with a light show that had the kids busting a move for hours. We also now have a rock band, consisting of two of the 12-year-old boys. They set up their drum kit, plugged in an electric guitar and amp and treated us to some pretty awesome covers of Nirvana and AC/DC.

I feel so privileged to be able to watch all of these kids grow up together with such pride in their community. I love knowing that this is a place where they feel safe and happy, where there are so many adults they trust and look up to, where there are older kids who still love to be around and participate because they grew up here and loved it. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to see my own kids embrace the little ones, the babies and toddlers, teach them what it means to live on this street. It is a gift that I never could have imagined when we bought this house almost 8 years ago and I will be forever grateful because this street has changed our lives for the better.

Super Awesome Weekend of Fun Part One – CNE

Do you ever have one of those days where you are just capital T Tired? Where you want to stay in your pyjamas and sip tea and randomly nap all day? That would be me today. It’s a good tired but I am now sitting with my feet up and a glass of iced tea beside me and I really don’t want to move.

Friday was a trip to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) for those of you who are not from around these parts. I’m not even going to try and explain but if you’re curious, check out their website at http://www.theex.com/. I went with my sister and her 3 kids plus my niece’s friend this year and it was a very different experience this time around. No more forays through the farm building to look at the baby chicks, no more sitting and watching the wonderdogs show, no more craft fair. This trip was midway, midway, midway, and frankly, I was exhausted without having gone on a single ride.

Turns out Monkey and his cousin of the same age have now hit the magical 50 inch height barrier and they can now go on ANY RIDE. Seriously. I had to watch my kids boarding the Polar Express. Remember this baby? I’m not talking about the feel good Christmas movie. Remember how fast this thing goes and how you get crushed if you’re the unlucky soul sitting on the outside?

The thing with having 6 kids all going on rides is that it leaves the mums holding the bags and seeking shade. It was 37 degrees yesterday (that’s 98.6 farenheit for any Americans out there), and super sunny, so my sis and I spent a lot of the time hunkering beside game booths seeking shade and waiting and waiting and waiting. The best new attraction at the midway this year? There, amongst all of the hot dog, funnel cake, and cotton candy booths, was a new concession stand selling COFFEE!!!! Iced coffee, hot coffee, frozen vanilla lattes, you name it. Nothing hits the spot when you’re tired, sticky, and overheated like a gigantic frozen coffee. Ahhhhhhh.

Lunch, or early dinner, was at theCanadian National Exhibition - Food Stall inside Food Building Food Building. Imagine a food court but with a couple of hundred booths serving pretty much any food you can imagine.

Of course, the one thing they didn’t have was avocado sushi which was what Monkey wanted. That meant pizza instead, which he is much less likely to fill up on, and which meant he would be clamouring for ‘treats’ within an hour.

I ended up having some yummy Asian/Mexican fusion fish tacos that had a lovely soft shell, a crunchy Asian slaw, and soft flaky fish, with some creamy and spicy sauce that was divine. I was very happy to find something relatively healthy with a bit of veg, while in a building that has an entire booth dedicated to bacon.Canadian National Exhibition - Garden Show

After lunch it was back to the midway and I was extremely happy when Muppet showed up around 5:30 to up the parent/child ratio to a more sensible 2:1. By this point, the incessant whirring of the rides, blaring music, heat, sun, and smells (both good and bad) were sending me into a definite sensory overload.  Time for a bit of a break in the air conditioned and very quiet garden building. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I kind of look back and see this year’s trip to the CNE as a bit of a parenting experiment for Muppet and I. We learned very early on that our kids have limits to how much fun and excitement they can take in a day. If we don’t read their signs of fatigue and hunger, we end up with weepy, whiny  basket cases where our cheery children used to be. It’s not pretty and we always aim to avoid it.This year, because they were with their cousins and able to enjoy the ‘big kid’ midway, we followed their lead and just kept on going. We hit the midway again after dark, which I have to admit is extremely cool, and waited to see what would happen. There was funnel cakes and fresh lemonade, fun houses and more Polar Express. About 4 rides later the meltdowns began. Mini Me got off the Gravitron and said he was ready to go home NOW. He couldn’t wait any more, he wanted out of there.Then Monkey had a total mental collapse over something that I can’t even remember which meant I had to pick him up and carry him for a bit. That kid is skinny but he is no lightweight, let me tell you. He tucked his sweaty face into the crook of my sweaty neck and had a good cry. It was time to go.

One of the fantastic things about living in Toronto is the ready availability of taxis. It’s a splurge, sure, but when you have 2 kids having complete and utter mental breakdowns, $25 is a small price to pay to be walking in your front door within 20 minutes.

And the parenting lesson Muppet and I learned? Sure, our kids are older now and they can go on the big kid rides and we can have a family day without strollers and goldfish crackers and diaper bags, but their basic personalities are still the same. They want to be Energizer Bunnies like their cousins, but when push comes to shove, they need their sleep, they get over stimulated, and somebody needs to be the bad guy and put an end to the fun before things get ugly.

Oops, I just realized that they’re exactly like me!!

Vi’s House Is Falling Down

I love my house, in all its 92 year old glory. Yet I am realizing that a relationship with a house is like a marriage. If you don’t work at it, it falls apart. Didn’t I read somewhere that 7 years is like some kind of bump in the road for marriages, like if you make it to 7 you either get divorced or go on for another 20. Well, the house and I have hit that 7 year mark and I am a little worried it wants a trial separation.

You have to understand that when I say 92 years old, I am not talking about one of those gems where you strip off some paint to find gorgeous mahogany underneath, where the lot is vast and the ceilings high and glorious. Nope. I’m talking about 92 years in east end Toronto. Rumour has it our streets were once a bit of a ghetto for the factory workers of the east end docks.and portland. No stained glass and expensive wood here, folks, and that’s maybe why I love it so much. Our house is sturdy and bare bones, practical and strong, just like my ancestors! But now, it is showing its age.

My loving partner is not a handyman, as you may have guessed by his moniker. Muppet does not exactly conjur up visions of a do-it-yourself kind of guy with a wrench in one hand and a hammer in the other. He is much more at home sculpting clay action figures of Plants vs. Zombies for the Monkey or teaching Mini Me and his buddies how to play Dungeons and Dragons.  Total geek, totally not handy.

But this summer, I’m putting my foot down. If we don’t look after this poor old house, it’s going to fall down around us sooner rather than later. So, where to start? Well, there’s the front porch that desperately needs replacing, the back mud room which has to be drywalled, insulated and tiled, after a flood last year that left the old drywall stained and crumbling. Then there’s the upstairs bathroom floor with its loose peel and stick tiles, the kitchen with its scuffed peel and stick that is about 5 layers deep. Oh, and the two toilets that need to be replaced with low flow before the city forces us to put in the new water meters. Sigh.

Oh, and did I mention that hiring somebody to do all of this for us is totally out of our budget? Yep. Let the games begin! Maybe I should start submitting our poor old house to some of those home improvement shows that will take pity on you and do the stuff for free? I wonder if I can convince Mike Holmes that he has to ‘make it right’ around here.

The fun starts next week with the mud room and I am going to document the hell out of this because I’m sure it’s going to be a crap load of frustration and hard work but this is a relationship worth saving. We’ve invested 7 years and I want to do whatever it takes to get over this hump. Wish me luck!