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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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

S

Snowy riverbanks
©PicklesINK 2012

S

Snowy woodland trail covered with cross-country ski tracks
©PicklesINK 2012

S

Icy river close-up
©PicklesINK 2012

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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Let’s Go To The Ex – In a Torrential Downpour!

We had been planning yesterday’s trip to The CNE for a week – my mom was on vacation and wanted to come, the kids were raring to go and Ben would never have forgiven me if we missed out this year (on the CNE of course, but more importantly on the GO Train ride to the CNE). On Monday morning the sky looked a touch threatening, but the good people at The Weather Network assured me that everything was fine – if anything we would see 5 mm of precipitation in Toronto, and really, does that even qualify as “rain”?

Call that “rain”? Pshaw!
© PicklesINK

But being the never-prepared mom that I am, I packed up snacks and raincoats (even for me!). On the way to the train station, it was a little drizzly, but I thought, “That’s okay – the weather forecast for TORONTO says only 1 mm of rain in the morning.” When I stopped for Starbucks I quipped to the girl at the drive-through that we were on our way to the Ex on this beautiful sunny day, and she laughed nervously, obviously knowing something I didn’t. By the time we got to the train station, it was raining pretty steadily, so I bundled the kids into their raincoats and we made a run for the platform, still optimistic. (“My friends at The Weather Network say close to 5 mm! That’s not even actually 5 mm! And when have they ever been wrong before?”) So we got our tickets, boarded the train, and rattled on towards our destination.

Rain, rain, go away!
© PicklesINK

The highlight of the train ride for Ben was borrowing my camera to take a picture of the tracks.

A pretty good shot for a 5 year-old!
©PicklesINK 2012

Lo and behold my optimism paid off because it was barely raining at all when we got to Exhibition Station and met Nana and our 13 year-old family friend Erdene. The dry spell lasted just long enough for us to buy our tickets and enter the grounds before the heavens opened and let us know what they thought about The Weather Network and their scientifically-based meteorological “predictions.” But we had come this far and we were darn well going to make the best of it!

We made our way, wetly, towards KIDS’ WORLD, detouring along the way into the Arts and Crafts Building, where we visited an amazingly talented designer friend, Naomi, of Designs by Naomi. Always super-generous, she gave each of the kids a cool crocheted hat in their favourite colour.

Ben’s, naturally, green, and Molly’s, of course, pink.
Angelina Ballerina didn’t get one.
©PicklesINK 2012

We continued on to KIDS’ WORLD where we hit up some rides and games. Erdene and I got drenched on the sopping wet Tornado (those foam seats sure hold a lot of water!).

Molly caught a frog in a net to win her new favourite pink stuffed monkey (who she named, aptly enough, “Pinky”) and Ben played a fishing game and won a stuffed fish and crocodile, and then they practiced their foul weather aeronautical skills flying helicopters in the rain.

Coming in for a landing.
© PicklesINK

Then we moved on to our main goal – the KIDS’ WORLD Stage, where Splash ‘N Boots, my Ben and Molly’s favourite kids entertainers were playing at 12:30. We were a bit early for the show, but it was sheltered and we weren’t about to look a gift awning in the mouth! Nana went and got some popcorn and we settled in to snack and watch the roadies set up. Angelina Ballerina came out for a visit and Ben and Molly enjoyed hugging and dancing with her. Ben did lean over to me and whisper, “Mommy, I don’t think that’s really Angelina. I think it’s a person in a costume,” but he was kind enough not to share his observation with Molly.

Much less creepy than
most of the mascots.
©PicklesINK 2012

And then, finally, the main event! Splash ‘N Boots came out and chatted with Ben and Molly for a bit because they’re awesome that way (Yes, I am a Ben and Molly are groupie(s)!). Splash was the first to see the big reveal of Ben’s new semi-permanent hair colour – as it turns out, the dye in his new green hat was not colour-fast.

Perfect for back-to-school!
©PicklesINK 2012

Splash ‘N Boots put on an awesome semi-private show for Ben and Molly and about 5 other families who had sought shelter from the rain. Ben finally got to say his favourite animal (“Kitten!”) into Boots’ microphone (he had chased her around the audience every show before this in vain and even singing the chorus of “KooKooKaMachoo” at the last show was cold comfort). Molly had her turn too, and leaned into the microphone and said very clearly, “My favourite animal is a…” and then wandered off, leaving Ben to fill in, “Monkey!” for her. They also got to hold up their favourite vegetables for “Rockin’ Vegetables,”

©PicklesINK 2012

although Splash ‘N Boots may need to rethink that plan after Molly tried to load hers into the stroller and make her escape.

If I do it very quietly, I’m sure
no-one will catch on…
© PicklesINK

When the show ended we stuck around and monopolized the stars for a little while

©PicklesINK 2012

and then went back to use up the rest of our ride tickets in what we assumed would be another very brief dry spell! There are a lot of great things about visiting amusement parks/midways in the rain (as a teenager, I always tried to plan my Wonderland visits for rainy days!) – no lines, bored and generally friendly ride operators who give extra-long rides, and the only rides that usually get shut down are the roller coasters that I don’t really like anyway. Really, the only downside was being soaked, and a little rain never hurt anyone. (Okay, almost never.)

Kiddie Train (with working bell)
©PicklesINK 2012

Nana and Ben spinning the Berry-Go-Round.
©PicklesINK 2012

Molly on the Berry-Go-Round:
“Whee!!! It’s fast!! I’m so dizzy!!”
©PicklesINK 2012

And what trip to the fair would be complete without a trip up the Ferris Wheel?!

©PicklesINK 2012

Finally, we finished the day with a nice, healthy late lunch in the Food Building. I actually managed to resist the Eclair Hot Dog and opted for some Jamaican jerk chicken instead. Ben and Molly had pizza followed, naturally, by Tiny Tom’s Donuts.

The donuts are gone. She is eating the sugar
out of the bottom of the bag in handfuls.
©PicklesINK 2012

Then, having completely exhausted Nana our options, we headed back to the station to catch our train home, and entertained the other riders with conversations like, “Would you like some snack, bud?” “But mommy, you said we weren’t allowed to eat on the train!” “Well, bud, to be honest, that’s just something I said because I didn’t want to get the snack out right then.”

It was an awesome day out and despite the rain (Darn you, Weather Network!) we wouldn’t have missed it!

~ karyn

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