picklesink

A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Other parents’ judgement? That’s the leash-t of my worries.

I love Today’s Parent. I don’t always agree with everything in it, but it’s always a good read, and gosh-dang-it, y’all know I’m a sucker for any kind of child development material!

The topic of this month’s “Debate” column is “Should you use a leash to control your toddler?” and I felt it missed the mark. I was frankly offended by Nadine Silverthorne’s assertion that “parents who use leashes look lazy,” and although Amy Morrison’s “Yes” column made a great case for leashes, I was saddened by the caveat that she never actually used one herself due to fear of judgement – a fear that was clearly justified!

Since Today’s Parent hasn’t been able to find anyone willing to admit to actually using a toddler leash, I feel compelled (anyone surprised by that?) to add my own two cents!

Although I use the term “toddler leash” facetiously among friends, it is not at all the same as an animal leash. There is no “obedience training” involved and it is not a punitive device used to jerk back a disobedient pet to ensure compliance born out of fear of a repeat performance. A toddler “leash” or harness is a safety device that allows your child the freedom of walking a few steps away from you while giving you the means to respond effectively to any unexpected danger.

Toddlers value independence above all else. The “Terrible Twos” exist because it is around that age that children first learn to do for themselves, at their own pace, and heaven help the parent who says, “Just let me do it for you!” Is it really fair to strap your fearless little explorer into a 5-point stroller harness just because he or she is too dazzled by the wonderful world around him or her to stop dead every time you shout, “Freeze!”?

Going back to the statement that toddler leash-toting parents “look lazy,” I asked my own mother, who, as a full-time doctor and mother of 3 in the 1980’s is the least lazy person I know (Case in point: She recently returned to work on crutches 9 days after breaking her hip in a skiing accident), what she thinks of parents who use toddler leashes. She responded dryly, “Karyn, if I hadn’t used a toddler leash, your brother Chris wouldn’t be around today.”

When Ben was a toddler, I kept his lightweight harness in my diaper bag, ready to throw on him any time the situation warranted. If I was going to be wandering the Eaton’s Centre or downtown Toronto, or taking a trip to a train station or waterfront with a 2 year-old, you bet your bippy I’d have that leash at the ready!

Ben with leash 2

Ben, on leash, walking by a river in Germany.
©PicklesINK 2013

It was the best option for both of us – Ben was free to explore without being stuck in the stroller or having his hand held (just take a minute to imagine how uncomfortable it must be to have someone much taller than you holding your hand up above your head until it falls asleep, gripping it hard enough that you can’t pull away) and I had the security of knowing that I could stop him if he suddenly bolted towards a hazard.

Ben with leash 3

And Ben, off leash!
©PicklesINK 2013

There are certain situations in which even the most anti-leash parent would be unlikely to argue that a safety harness isn’t a good idea:

Ben with harness on sailboat

Ben on a sailboat with a lifejacket and safety harness.
©PicklesINK 2013

(For the record, the harness Ben is wearing in the preceding photograph is actually an adult boating harness intended for sailboat racing – safety devices ain’t just for toddlers, y’know.)

And how about in the case of special needs children? If you don’t think that’s appropriate, take a minute to walk a mile in some other parents’ shoes by reading the testimonials on this website from users of special needs child-to-adult harnesses. Or take it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:

I’ve got the best harness in the world. When I first got it I didn’t like wearing it, but now I love my harness. I never get lost and I don’t have to keep holding hands all the time and its comfortable to wear. Big kids and little kids should wear a harness because you are never too old to be kept safe. And I love the colours.

– Tyler, Australia, Age 9, http://www.childharness.ca/testimonials.html

There are important guidelines to follow when using a toddler harness:

1. The whole idea is to give your child the freedom to explore on his or her own terms, so try to follow at his or her pace and guide your child with your words (“Time to go this way! Come on!”). Your child is not a puppy, and the harness is not an choke-chain, so do not jerk him or her back to you.

2. If you aren’t holding the harness, tuck it firmly out of the way, and take it off completely if your child is playing on something like a climber or slide where it could become a strangulation hazard.

3. When it comes to wrist straps, just don’t: If you can manage to get them tight enough to stay on, they’re just a broken wrist waiting to happen.

4. And of course, make sure that you come prepared with pithy rejoinders for those inevitable judgments, such as,

“Well, the breeder suggested that we try this first, but if his behaviour doesn’t improve soon, it’s off to obedience school!”

“Dear God! You’re right! This isn’t my dachshund Olympus – it’s my neighbour’s kid! I can’t believe I did it AGAIN!”

Or the classic, “You know what they say about people in glass houses.”

As Nadine Silverthorne points out, it is our job as parents to teach our children “the rules,” including the expectation that when we say “Freeze,” they will. I say that even more importantly, it is our job to know our own children and to keep them safe whether they are listening or not.  The call-and-response method that she describes is an excellent training tool, but at the toddler age it is simply not foolproof. There is always potential for distraction, and the use of a toddler leash can ensure that a moment’s  impulsiveness doesn’t turn into a life-altering tragedy.

~ karyn (aka that horrible, lazy, toddler-leash-using mom everybody love to judge!)

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Who decided to call it March “Break” anyway?

I’m ba-a-ack!! Sorry about the bloggy hiatus. It’s been a bit of a hectic couple of weeks around here! My car has been fixed, no thanks to Mazda (I won’t get into that though…feel free to scroll back through my Twitter for details). So far I haven’t received the bill, so I’m just pretending it doesn’t exist…not necessarily a sustainable plan over the long term, but it’s working for me right now!

It seems that Mother Nature has decided to tack the winter she forgot to give us last year onto the end of this one. Watching the blowing snow out my living room window day after day I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. But I digress.

We had a great March Break but I don’t think you can really call it a “break!” We went up to my parents’ ski chalet for the week, bringing friends and our babysitter Victoria with us. When we got there, Ben and Molly spent an hour bouncing off the walls – “When are Noah and Ella going to be here? Are they here yet? When are they going to get here? AREN’T THEY HERE YET???” I think that was when Victoria started wondering what she had gotten herself into…

Noah and Ella and their parents arrived and the kids settled right in together:

Hanging out 1

Ben and Noah and Molly and Ella giggling together in chairs (no plans for bedtime any time soon!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah went to ski day camp in the mornings and both improved immensely skiing-wise. Michael (Noah and Ella’s dad) and I got some great skiing in too. I think we managed to go through every snow condition possible – warm, sticky spring, fresh powder, icy pellets, freezing cold dead of winter. It was like the entire ski season compressed itself into 3 days!

Ben skiing 2

Ben skiing. I think this was the really cold day – note the icy patch on his left
©PicklesINK 2013

With a 2-hour group lesson every day, Ben and Noah both improved immensely. Ben continues to work his way through the fast-food metaphors, having now graduated from doing “pizza slices” and onto “french fries.” They also became quite well-known at the hill – “Are you Ben’s mom? Oh my gosh, he and Noah are SO. CUTE. They are so chatty! And they were holding hands while they were waiting for the lift.”

Noah skiing

Looking good, Noah!
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Ben skiing

Ben’s kind of halfway between the pizza slice and the french fries here.
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Much to their mommies’ terror, the reward for a good day of skiing seemed to be a trip down the free-style terrain park. There’s nothing quite like seeing your 5 year-old sliding across rails and off ski jumps to strike cold fear into your heart!

Molly also tried her hand…er…her feet at skiing. Boy, was my back sore after that…

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Mommy and Molly skiing together
©PicklesINK 2013

As I’m sure you gathered from her expression, she hated it! She wasn’t totally satisfied though – I asked how she liked it and she said, “Great! But faster next time, Mommy, okay? Faster!”

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Mommy helping grinning Molly back up at the bottom of the hill
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben finally got to experience his first sleepover. We’ve tried a few times letting him and Molly share a room, and sadly it always ends in disaster. The closest they came to making it work was a few weeks ago when Ben finally fell asleep and stayed that way, despite Molly sitting up beside him kicking him with both legs yelling, “Ben? BEN? Wake up, Ben! I want to play! BEEEEENNNNN!!!”

Ben and Noah, happily, were able to make it work, much to Ben’s delight – “A sleepover with my BEST FRIEND? THIS IS THE GREATEST NIGHT EVER!!” Towards the early hours of the morning we did discover that Ben, like his parents before him, is a cover-hog. My advice for marital harmony, folks? Two words: Separate duvets.

Sleepover

Ben and Noah’s sleepover
©PicklesINK 2013

Thanks to Victoria, we grown-ups were able to enjoy a lovely night out at a beautiful local restaurant called Mrs. Mitchell’s, named after the last and longest-serving teacher at the one-room schoolhouse that now houses the restaurant. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it! (If you can’t get there, at least try making their famous spoon bread at home). The waitress told us one of the best stories ever about my mom and aunt (identical twins): “You know how they look exactly alike but one of them is chattier than the other? For years I thought they were the same person but with multiple personalities. Then one day they came in together and I nearly fell off my chair!”

Mrs. Mitchell’s is also famous for their afternoon tea, which has been a favourite of mine (and hasn’t changed much!) since I was little. Karen and I brought Molly and Ella for a “Princess Tea Party” on our last afternoon.

Princess tea party 2

Molly’s first taste of tea
©PicklesINK 2013

Really, what could be better than an individual basket of fresh-baked scones and sweet potato and walnut muffins served with strawberry preserves, cream, and whipped butter? Not much, say I!

Princess tea party 1

Molly enjoying her muffin
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah made good use of their time while the girls were gone, converting the chalet into a bookstore, complete with window display and “employees only” area.

Bookstore 1

Ben and Noah’s bookshop window display (visible from outside as we drove up!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Bookstore 2

Sign reads “Noah and Ben’s book store – staff only”
©PicklesINK 2013

When we got back, they were down in the “staff only” area hard at work writing and illustrating their debut novel, “Journey To The End Of The Pine River.” [*Spoiler alert*] I assume that part of the story will deal with the existential futility of trying to play Poohsticks with pieces of ice…

Bridge 3

Noah, Ella, Ben and Molly playing Poohsticks with ice – sadly, a losing battle.
©PicklesINK 2013

All in all, an excellent but exhausting week! Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know if you can really call it a “break.” Perhaps the concept was pioneered by a childless school principal – “EUREKA! I’ve just had the Greatest! Idea! Ever!!”

Bridge 4

Definitely worth it, though! Look at those grins!
©PicklesINK 2013

Or maybe it’s actually a clever acronym: March B.R.E.A.K. (Begetting Really Exhausted parents And Kids).

Aftermath

The Aftermath: I think Ian and Molly could have slept for a week!
©PicklesINK 2013

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Chalet trip: Black Diamonds are forever and Happy New Year

Ben went away after Christmas for a “special trip with Nana and Grandad.” We perhaps should have prepared Molly better, because she was absolutely devastated when he left:

Sad Molly

The saddest Molly face EVER.
©PicklesINK 2012

She cried for hours – “But I need BEN! I can’t go to sleep without BEN! No, you can’t sing me a lullaby – ONLY BEN CAN SING ME A LULLABY!” She finally rolled over in bed and poured her heart out to her doll, Charlie – “Charlie, I miss BEN! Will you do a craft with me tomorrow, Charlie? With pink, and sparkles, and then we can call Ben and tell him about it?”

Ben and Molly’s reunion three days later was a sight to see. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it, but he threw open the car door and jumped in and they embraced and cheered and gushed, “I missed you, Molly!!” “I missed you too Ben!” “I love you, Molly!!” “I love you, Ben!!” and you couldn’t pry them apart for the rest of the day.

Together again 3

Ben and Molly sitting in a chair watching a show
©PicklesINK 2012

Ice cream

Ben and Molly sharing a chair and dessert
©PicklesINK 2012

For days after we got home, Molly would occasionally smile and say, “Now Ben is back where he belongs – with Molly.” I know they’ll have their sibling ups and downs, but as one friend put it, we must be doing something right!

The purpose of Ben’s special trip, aside from having a fun time with Nana and Grandad, was to give him the opportunity to learn to ski. In my family, we traditionally are put on skis pretty well as soon as we can walk reliably and there’s snow on the ground, so we started both Ben and Molly on skis the winters before their 2nd birthdays. At that age, though, you’re mostly just holding the child up and getting them used to the idea of sliding down the hill standing up.

A friend who is an extremely talented pianist and piano teacher (shameless plug – if you’re in the Toronto area and looking for piano lessons, check her out) suggested that in most cases it’s good idea to hold off on private piano lessons until a child is old enough to have the fine motor control to physically do what they want to do on the instrument or they will get frustrated. She suggests starting lessons at 6 and notices that in general children who start piano lessons at that age very quickly catch up to their peers who started at a younger age.

I suspect that the same is true of sports like skiing – I think that each child has a threshold for when they are physically capable of learning the sport, and while introducing them to it earlier will help them become comfortable with the sensations, once they hit that threshold they will literally and figuratively take off.

In Ben’s case, that threshold was age 5 1/2! He left with Nana and Grandad on Boxing Day to go up to the chalet, and Molly and I joined them on the 29th. He left a non-skier who hadn’t even been on skis in a year, and this is what I found when I went up:

Zoom 1

Ben zooming downhill without a care in the world
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and grandad 2

Ben, in the lead, racing Grandad
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and nana 2

Ben and Nana stopping for a chat
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben just a dot

Ben, just a dot in the distance
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben on Chair

Ben riding the chairlift like an old pro
©PicklesINK 2012

Helmet hair

Ben showing off his helmet hair in the bar…er…cafeteria.
©PicklesINK 2012

He was skiing down the freaking black diamonds!! In skiing speak, those are the “Advanced” slopes, as compared to the green circles (Beginner), blue squares (Intermediate), and double- or triple- black diamonds (!!☠☠!! and !!!☠☠☠!!!). This is all, of course, relative – Ontario black diamonds are not the same level as BC or Quebec black diamonds, let alone others found worldwide. But still – pretty amazing stuff for a 5 year-old after 4 days of lessons!

Please also note my prodigious talent at photographing a moving target whilst skiing myself – I may not excel at many sports, but when it comes to skiing I got mad skillZ! And if you don’t believe me, take it from The Evil Snowman:

Evil snowman

I am The Evil Snowman, and I endorse this message.
©PicklesINK 2012

After skiing, it was back to the chalet for some (EVIL) snowman-building followed by warm chocolate with marshmallows (Ben and Molly feel that hot chocolate would be too hot) and a dip in the hot tub.

Molly's bathing suit

I forgot Molly’s bathing suit, but a tankini top and some creative strap-tying did the trick.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ian and I reprised the dip in the hot tub on New Year’s Eve and participated in the classic chalet tradition of making snow angels in bathing suits. Before you say anything, let he among you who can resist a double-dare cast the first stone snowball!!

Snow angel

Brrr….snow angel…..brrr….
©PicklesINK 2012

Ian went for a wander with his camera and took some great pictures:

Snow falling

New Year’s Eve snowfall
©PicklesINK 2012

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Snowy riverbanks
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Snowy woodland trail covered with cross-country ski tracks
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Icy river close-up
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And along with Nana, we managed (just) to stay up until midnight, raise a glass, and then collapse into bed.

Evil snowman celebrating

Happy New Year
from The Evil Snowman!
©PicklesINK 2012

I know it’s a little late, but from our home to yours, I hope you had a very Happy New Year and that your hopes and dreams for the coming year all come true!

~ karyn

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Beluga Grads having a Whale of a Time

Subtitled 3 Generations Go Bananas at @Raffi_RC Concert

Raffi ticket

Raffi #BelugaGrads Family Concert Ticket

DREAM COME TRUE DREAM COME TRUE DREAM COME TRUE!!!

Like practically all Canadians of a certain age (*cough* 27 *cough* No, really! *cough* *cough* Well, the specifics are unimportant, so…moving on…) I spent my childhood immersed in the music of Raffi . I played my Singable Songs for the Very Young and More Singable Songs LPs until I wore out the needle on my Strawberry Shortcake record player (and my dad kept…forgetting…to pick up a new needle…I’m beginning to suspect that he may have been enjoying the peace and quiet).

Singable Songs

Singable Songs and More Singable Songs
album covers

Moving on to the modern world of cassette tapes, One Light, One Sun was my absolute favourite. And even as an adult, “Joshua Giraffe” is guaranteed to send terrified shivers up and down my spine.

Raffi talking

Raffi speaks onstage at Roy Thomson Hall
December 2, 2012 ©PicklesINK 2012

Raffi Cavoukian fell into children’s music by accident, or perhaps serendipity. Originally a folk musician, Raffi accepted his mother-in-law’s invitation to sing for her nursery school and then took her suggestion to record a children’s album – proof positive that mothers (or mother-in-laws) know best! The rest, as they say, is history.

Raffi guitar 4

Raffi plays guitar and sings at Roy Thomson Hall
December 2, 2012 ©PicklesINK 2012

Raffi’s authenticity and genuine love for children comes through in his music as well as his activism. Raffi has always been a strong proponent of children’s rights, from his song “All I really need,” inspired by the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; to his 1997 founding of the Centre for Child Honouring, dedicated to advancing a vision of societal transformation based on respect for children and the earth; and most recently, spurred by the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd, to his founding of The Red Hood Project which aims to make the internet safer for young users.

Having been a fan of Raffi’s music from a very young age and his philosophy from more recently, I introduced my children to his music early on. Ben has always loved music – these two pictures, taken a year apart, show Ben jamming with his favourite busker, Keith, at a farmers’ market.

Ben jamming 1

Ben, age 3, jamming with Keith the busker
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben jamming 2

Ben, age 4 –
This time Keith gave Ben the stage to himself!
©PicklesINK 2012

He spent several months around the age of 3 obsessed with watching Youtube videos of vintage Raffi concerts and then putting on his own Hawaiian shirt, picking up his ukulele and recreating them for Molly, who appreciated the private concerts very much!

Ben as Raffi

Ben puts on a concert for a captive audience,
baby Molly in the jolly jumper.
©PicklesINK 2012

So when I heard in August about the upcoming #BelugaGrads Family Concert tour, I wasted no time getting my tickets…and not just mine!

Nana and Aunt Jane

Aunt Jane (left) and Nana watching the show
©PicklesINK 2012

Nana, Grandad, and Aunt Jane were delighted to come and share the Beluga nostalgia…

Grandad, Molly, daddy

Grandad, Molly, and daddy welcome Raffi onstage
©PicklesINK 2012

…and Ian, an English import and therefore a more recent Raffi convert was excited to experience the magic as well!

Ben and Kiara 2

Ben and Kiara dancing together
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly were also happy to have their young friend Kiara and her mommy Keri along for the ride. Kiara may turn out to be one of Raffi’s most fervent admirers – she didn’t stop bobbing her head and clapping the whole time!

Kiara clapping

Kiara clapping along with the music
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly’s reviews of the concert were glowing: Ben told me that his favourite part of the concert was every part and his favourite song was every song! Molly was more specific – her favourite song was “Molly’s song,” which she said went, “Monkey monkey monkey monkey. Monkey monkey monkey monkey. Monkey monkey monkey monkey. Monkey monkey monkey munchkin.” I’m not convinced I remember that one but perhaps it will provide inspiration for Raffi’s next album!

Grandad’s favourite part was when Raffi crouched behind his chair to slip on a red jersey before singing a new song, “On Hockey Days.” He was slightly disappointed when Raffi stood and revealed that it was Team Canada rather than Habs but enjoyed the song anyway.

Raffi hockey 2

Raffi can handle a hockey stick
and sing at the same time!
©PicklesINK 2012

One of the most touching moments in the concert was when Raffi led us all in singing “Happy Birthday” to 3 year-old Mason – read more about that in @Clippo‘s touching post “On Music, Love, and Raffi.”

Thank you so much, Raffi – It was a wonderful concert and an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon for kids and adults alike – As I said to the other obviously Beluga Grad parents in the elevator on the way down, “Our kids enjoyed it, but let’s be honest with ourselves – we all came here for us, right?”

~ karyn

Do your kids listen to Raffi? Did you? What’s your favourite Raffi song?

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Giving some old shoes the boot

About a year ago I was detoured on my way home because of an accident and drove past a very odd sight: a large tree by the side of the road festooned with hundreds of pairs of shoes.

©PicklesINK 2012

I had never seen anything like it before and went home and consulted my friend Google, who also had no idea. Since then, the good people of Wikipedia have been hard at work and there is now an entry that would have answered some of my questions, but at the time I had to muddle on in ignorance.

It has since suffered some damage as we’ve had some pretty severe storms in the last year but the most of the shoes seemed to have come through pretty well…at least you wooden know weather or not they were the worse for the wear.

©PicklesINK 2012

A little while ago I showed it to Ben and Molly and ever since Ben has been eager to add a pair of his shoes to it, so we decided that today was the day. We gathered up a hammer and some nails and two pairs of worn out shoes (Ben’s favourite, worn right through the soles, Thomas sneakers, and Molly’s out-grown and well-scuffed “pretty pretty pink shoes”) and drove out to the tree, where Ian handily nailed found some space and nailed them on.

©PicklesINK 2012

Ian managed to find room for Ben’s on the trunk

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but for Molly’s he had to go out on a limb.

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You might think we’re barking mad, and perhaps that is the root of the issue… (okay, I think I’m done now. At least I guess it’s time I leaf it alone. Heheheheheh…) Anyway, now Ben and Molly’s shoes have a place in local history along with other footwear both large and small (Hey, if the shoe fits…).

©PicklesINK 2012

And Ben and Molly have a fun memory of a family outing to illegally vandalize a natural landmark purely for the sake of entertainment!

But seriously, it was a lot of fun!

©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

Have you seen a shoe tree? Do you know anything more about them?

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