What to Expect when Traveling to London with Children

London

I have been traveling to overseas destinations with my children since my eldest was just 17 days old. Some people think I am crazy. Others may be envious. And a few more have applauded me. Over the past eleven years I have traveled with my children all over the world, from New Zealand to France to Hawaii to Israel and many other points in between. This past week I added England to the list, or more specifically, London.

Traveling with children is not necessarily an easy thing to do, no matter the destination. Even in an English-speaking environment like London, with all the amenities I could ever want at my fingertips, we faced a few challenges. Over the past few days, as my family enjoyed a short stay in this fantastic city, I took mental notes about what to expect and what not to expect, and hopefully I can share some advice with others who are planning a trip with children to London.

Accommodations

London is a very expensive city, and a simple, clean, small hotel room in a central location can be expensive. I discovered the joys of Airbnb a few years ago, when we traveled to Rome, and I never looked back. For a reasonable amount of money (not cheap but fairly priced), a family can stay in an apartment (we booked a two-bedroom flat near Piccadilly Circus) that is spacious, has a kitchen and separate living area. You can save a bit of money if you book a space with no elevator. Grab some groceries at a local supermarket and enjoy breakfast before going out for the day. And you get a bit of a flavour of local London life too thrown in this way.

What to expect at an Airbnb: more space, great location, a more personal way to stay in an international city.

Don’t expect: a sterile, formal space. It is someone’s home. Treat it with respect.

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Having a snack at the Airbnb. Spacious and convenient.

Food

You can find every kind of cuisine in London, and like the accommodations, it’s expensive. My children eat with their eyes and want everything they see. They eat two bites and suddenly they are full. So, I picked up fresh bread, cheerios, bananas, oranges, chips, and chocolate (Cadbury Dairy Milk of course) at the local supermarket and carried them with me all day. We snacked on everything from sandwiches and pasta to sushi and pizza throughout the day as well (which were partially consumed), but all the snacks were demolished. The kids asked for treats at every street corner, but we learned to say no. One could go bankrupt just buying food in London. Don’t fall into the I’m hungry trap with children. Throw them a banana and some chocolate and they will settle down.

What to expect when buying food: to see the same price you pay in dollars for basics, but you are paying in pounds (3 pounds for a latte? Yep, that’s almost 6 Canadian dollars).

What I didn’t expect: cheap groceries. Fresh baguette was only 9 pence (that’s about 17 cents!) at the end of the day, and it was good.

Transportation

Public transportation is world class in London, but for an outsider it can seem confusing. When I first did a Google search on the topic I was overwhelmed. There’s the Underground, DLR, trains and buses. Don’t forget the famous black taxi, and Uber has arrived too. I can’t bear to spend fortunes to travel from the airport to my accommodations or to sight see, and I highly recommend using public transit. You can buy an Oyster Card at Heathrow airport (card has a five-pound deposit which you can get refunded at a machine when you leave), or tap your credit card to enter public transit as well.

I won’t go into all the details of how to use the system, but I will just say it’s efficient, it’s cheap and the kids love it. My kids could have spent a whole afternoon riding on the top floor, at the front, of a double decker bus and been happy. Don’t panic when you see the many transit options. Do your research and it will make sense.

What to expect when traveling around London: A tube station every few blocks and more double decker buses than cars downtown.

What I didn’t expect: kids under 11 travel free on the Underground, light rail and buses.

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They could spend all day and night on the double decker bus
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Now that’s the way to ride a bus.
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This is the way to travel through London – the Tube. And wow, it’s deep underground.

Sight Seeing

There are so many things to do and places to see in London, depending on your own personal preferences. My kids are like border collies and need a daily run. Like I did in Israel, I stood by my mantra to Keep It Simple Stupid. While the museums are incredible and I personally could spend hours at the British Museum or Victoria and Albert Museum, children don’t always have endless patience (or stamina). The torture chamber and historical re-enactment of a siege was a hit at the Tower of London as was our afternoon in Greenwich, where they could stand on Earth’s Prime Meridian (longitude is 0 degrees, so cool) and run up and down the deck of the famous Cutty Sark sailing ship.

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Who wouldn’t enjoy learning about torture?
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Nessa wasn’t impressed with the reenactment at the Tower of London. Sister Agnes took it all in stride.
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Standing on the edge of time.
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The famous Cutty Sark sailing ship is a child’s delight. Nessa ran everywhere.

For me, the best part of traveling to a city like London is walking the streets and soaking up the local culture. We walked and walked, well over 20,000 steps each day. We walked past Westminster and Big Ben, London Bridge, the London Monument and St Paul’s Cathedral. Trafalgar Square. Through famous historical neighbourhoods And of course over to Buckingham Palace.

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Family photo at Trafalgar Square
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Best shot we could get at Big Ben, with the ongoing renovations
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The London Bridge isn’t gorgeous, but we had to snap a photo
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Matthew and Julia learn about the famous Rosetta Stone at the British Museum

I could write a whole post just about the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Surrounded by thousands of people, many of them crammed together to get a good view, it was a bit underwhelming. You need to arrive at least 30-45 minutes in advance to secure a decent viewing point, and we chose the top steps of the statue of Queen Victoria (but don’t sit on the top of the statue, Queen Elizabeth doesn’t like that). A bit of advice: the ceremony begins at 11 am and continues for a half hour. Start walking away, towards the Wellington Barracks, at 11:20 am. The path to those barracks is quiet, and the “old guard” walk this route at 11:30. They march right past you and the band keeps playing. The kids were thrilled to see the famous guards up close.

What to expect at the changing of the guard: big crowds, aggressive people

What I didn’t expect: the band played a selection of ABBA. And it was great!

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Nessa brought her new bear with her to Buckingham palace. He’s a guard too.
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Taking a break from the guards marching behind us to snap a selfie
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It’s hard to get a good view of the action. I stayed on the Victoria statue and David tried to lift Julia (in purple jacket) up high.

And here is a little more advice:

DO:

  • Wear a pair of comfortable shoes, a warm jacket (like a packable down) and carry an umbrella. The weather changes like my kids’ moods.
  • Take a boat ride on the Thames. We used the MBNA Thames Clipper and loved it.
  • Buy tickets to attractions in advance on the internet. No line to enter (they will scan a bar code on your phone) and it’s about 20% cheaper online.
  • Stay in a central location, on the Piccadilly Line. Why? Heathrow airport is on that Underground (subway/metro) line and it’s so convenient (and cheap) to take the tube to and from the airport and your accommodation.
  • Check out the seemingly endless choice of Cadbury chocolate, at supermarkets and convenience stores. I have no self-control.
  • If you love the theatre, buy your tickets online in advance. Unlike New York, where there is a plethora of discounted shows through TKTS, there are few day-of deals in the London West End. Like everything else in this city, theatre is expensive.
  • Remember that they drive on the left side of the road. Look down before you cross the street – and read if you should look left or right.
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Emma learns which way to look when she crosses the street.

DON’T

  • Choose an Airbnb above a bar or night club or on a street with a busy night life if you don’t like noise or the kids go to sleep early. Our place was great, but it was a bit noisy.
  • Stand at the front, right at the gates, of Buckingham Palace, for changing of the guard. You see much less and you are stuck there for the whole ceremony.
  • Let a little rain or dampness stop you. That’s what London is all about. Take it in stride.
  • Waste your money and time in a long line to see either Madame Tussaud wax museum or the London Eye. These are overpriced tourist traps. There are so many better things to do.
  • Buy souvenirs at one of the many stores that line the streets of the city. You can snag a deal at a stand on the street or sometimes pick up a quality, more personal item, at an attraction’s gift shop.
  • Only travel around by public transit (or taxi). Get out and walk. London is a flat, easy-to-navigate city. Most of the best attractions are a short walk from each other.

London is a great city, and I look forward to returning there with my children someday. Our visit was too short, as we only had two full days to explore. We covered a lot of ground, ate some good local food (okay, we ate a lot of Cadbury chocolate) and even spent an evening with my cousin, Jacob. It’s loud, lively and expensive. And I loved it.

Leading up to an Overseas Family Vacation

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I love to travel, and if I could, I would take many trips around the world every year.  I can’t afford to do that, but hey, a girl can dream. But I don’t always have to dream, as once in a while I am lucky enough to go on a big trip. I’m leaving on one in a couple of days. And I’m not going alone. I’m taking my husband, my son, two daughters and niece too, to Israel. We are going on a long overdue, overseas family vacation. And I’m freaking out!

I have traveled many times with my husband and children, and we even took my nephew with us the last time we went to Israel, three years ago. Traveling with children does not scare me. I think that going on a family vacation is something wonderful and adventurous. If one can, travel is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child.

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Our attempt at a family selfie in the Old City of Jerusalem during our last visit to Israel 3 years ago

So why am I freaking out? Well, first of all, I think I always do in the final days leading up to a big family vacation. Whether we are driving to David’s family country house in Quebec or flying around the world to New Zealand, all the details that go into the booking, planning and (wince!) packing for a family vacation are stressful.

Most of the booking and planning is complete. The planning is actually the fun part. In some ways, you get to stretch the trip out longer when you surf the web and do research about activities and excursions. I’m now in the packing phase, which is always challenging. When I travel by myself, no problem. But I have set a lofty goal to pack efficiently and get everything our family of 5 needs into just 3 suitcases.

How many shirts? Did I remember to pack pyjamas for the baby? Since we are in Israel over Passover, did I make sure to throw in nice (clean) clothes for everyone? We will be in the desert, where it’s hot, for a few days. But oh, evenings are cold. So, I guess we need light jackets? Socks. Underwear. Toothpaste. Enough children’s Advil and Tylenol if the kids get sick. All of this swirls through my head night and day in the days leading up to our family vacation.

But it’s not just the packing. Just because I am going away, it doesn’t mean life at home stops. Okay, so I turn down the thermostat, shut off the lights and lock up my house. My daily life and daily routines comes to a halt. But the people I interact with every day keep living their regular daily lives.  I always need to prepare myself for that reality.

Who do I need to alert that I will be away? Are there services providers I need to contact? I don’t receive a daily newspaper anymore, so no worries there. I can monitor my home alarm from anywhere in the world. And in the technology age, I travel with my cell phone and am reachable at the top of Masada, on the beach in Tel Aviv or a windy road in the Galilee.

But there’s still so much to do. I work a few hours more in the week leading up to the family vacation to ensure I don’t leave any of my colleagues in the lurch while I am away. It reminds me of a study released back in January by ADP Canada (my main communications client right now where I spend most of my time) that examined how many hours Canadians typically devote to work before and/or after a vacation. Over 70% of people admitted having to put in much more work in the days leading up to vacation.

And for me and my family right now, as I have written about on a few occasions, life is stressful in general right now. Our work-life situation is rather unstable, and we don’t quite know where life will take us in the coming months. Is this the right time to go on such an ambitious family vacation? Should we be so far from home and potentially miss the next great opportunity?

Is all this freaking out on my part worth it?

The simple answer is, yes. I need a vacation. I really need a vacation. My family really needs it. No matter how many times I freak out in the next couple of days and wake up with night sweats paranoid about remembering to pack enough diapers for the baby for the plane, it’s all worth it.

Once I stand on my mother-in-law’s balcony, looking west to the view in the distance of the Mediterranean Sea and to the east view of the Jerusalem hills, I will feel better. Most of what I am feeling right now is normal. Going on a family vacation is a tremendous luxury, one that I appreciate more than ever right now. It doesn’t mean I will freak out less.  But it does mean I may enjoy it just a little bit more.

My Birthday Boy: What it Takes to Make a Cake

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Today is March 5, 2018. It’s my son’s eleventh birthday today. For the past few days I have been thinking about what I wanted to write on this day.  I’m a proud mother, and like all mothers across the world I love to boast about how great my child is. If you have met Matthew (or read my blog!), you know he’s a great kid. So, I’m not going to write about Matthew today. I’m going to write about cake.

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My eleven year-old

Writing about cake on my eldest child’s birthday makes a lot of sense if you know a little bit about me. First of all, Matthew’s nickname, that I gave him when he was a baby, is Cake. He loved a particular patty cake book, so I of course changed the words to Matty Cake. And it stuck. Or at least for me it did. I still call him Cake. I can’t help it.

But that’s not the only reason that I’m writing about cake today. I love to bake. I’m not a professional and I often skim over recipes and do my own thing. My baking works out, most of the time. And each year, on each of my children’s birthdays from age one and on, I bake a cake. And we’re not talking about just any old chocolate or vanilla slab number with icing. I’m talking about an elaborate theme, with designs, cut-outs, colours and shapes.

I will admit that the finished product usually tastes better than it looks. Again, I am really not a professional. I would barely even call myself an amateur. I guess I’m just passionate. Fun. Creative. And definitely a bit crazy.

My first adventure into crazy cakes was on Matthew’s first birthday, back in 2008. I had a son. He loved everything boy. So, I made him a car cake. By age two he was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine. My husband challenged me that he could bake a better cake. He baked Thomas and I baked Percy. Mine was better. Much better.

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I made Percy and David make Thomas. Percy tasted better.

As Matthew has grown up I have made a spaceship cake, a volcano, snowboarder on a. mountain and last year it was a basketball net. Some cakes have gone according to plan and others, well, not so much. His Boots cake when he turned three (yep, from Dora the Explorer) looked a bit funky, but the kids liked it!

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My strange attempt at Boots the Monkey
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He asked for a flying saucer and that what’s I did in my own special way.
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It was his first year of snowboarding so I had to do it.
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He loved basketball when he turned 10, so that’s what he got

I didn’t slow down when Julia came along. I did the tea party theme when she turned one and made a dollhouse when she turned two. During the Frozen craze, I put together Elsa’s castle. Last year she asked for a butterfly. And of course, I came through.

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I tried to make a teapot when Julia turned one.
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Julia’s second birthday: the dollhouse
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She wanted a butterfly and Julia got one

For Nessa’s first birthday last year I will admit I was a bit boring with a simple, though multi-layered, circular chocolate cake. But I cut out nice letters and made a special mini one for her to smush into her face.

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One for us and one just for Nessa on the day she turned one.

Matthew asked for cupcakes this year and no big elaborate cake. I was a bit disappointed, but I dove into my cupcake making this weekend. I produced 60 cupcakes, half white and half chocolate, with icing, sprinkles and a blue icing birthday message. He enjoyed them with his snowboard team and was quite satisfied with my effort.

Julia is still asking for an original and creative cake for her birthday in a couple of months, and I have years to go with Nessa. No matter how crazy the idea is, I’m up for it. Sometimes, the crazier the better.

So, a big happy birthday to Matthew. When he was born, he was the original inspiration for this blog. It only took me ten years to actually do it, and I don’t regret it at all. His love of sports, travel and all things intellectual continue to inspire me every day.

Tips to Look After Your Husband

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My mother sent me a clipping from a 1950 Home Economics book, a sort of top ten list for women on how to please your husband. In honour of Valentine’s Day, using this list as a guide, I am going to share with you my updated, 2018 version, of this same list. The tips provided to women in this 1950 guide are very serious. The ones I am suggesting, well, not so much.

Have dinner ready

1950: “Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.”

2018: On my drive home from work I think about what’s in my fridge and what I can throw together for dinner. Tonight, I wasn’t in the mood to cook, so I made pancakes. I don’t know, or care, whether or not my husband enjoyed dinner.

Prepare yourself

1950: “Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.”

2018: Our son turns 11 next month. That means I rested about, well, 11 years ago. I put on make-up when I first wake up early in the morning, and by the time we all arrive home at the end of the day I often look like a ragged mess. A stimulating conversation, on a general weekday evening, is a mix of yelling at our children, going over tasks to complete around the house and sometimes a more stimulating discussion about news and politics.

Clear away the clutter 

1950: “Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too.”

2018: Clutter is my middle name. At any given time, if anyone (never mind my husband) enters my house you will see many items scattered about – a single toddler sock, various toys, hats, coats, books, paper and dozens of other items. I may own some dust cloths. My house is usually a haven of chaos and disorder.

Prepare the children

1950: “Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and face (if they are small), comb their hair and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.”

2018: I love this one. Really? I do bathe my children regularly, but around 6:00 pm all three of them look more like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons than little treasures. Even if I did tidy up my children, my husband wouldn’t notice.

Minimize all noise

1950: “At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, drier, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.”

2018: When I’m home with my kids all day I’m very glad to see my husband. To hand the wild things over to him. It’s not hard to eliminate certain noises around the house, as I doubt that the washer or vacuum are in use anyway. I can guarantee that at least one child will be screaming, another one will be bothering another one and the third one won’t even notice that someone has arrived in our house.

Some don’ts

1950: “Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.”

2018: I build up my list of grievances as I slog through my day and my husband does too. He is rarely on time for anything, so I’m more shocked if he arrives anywhere on time than late.

Make him comfortable

1950: “Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax – unwind.”

2018: If my husband chooses to relax on a comfortable chair or in bed he had better do so with a couple of rambunctious children. He can make me a drink. His shoes better be off his feet before he steps off the mat at the front door. I don’t know what a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice is. I’m always loud.

Listen to him

1950: “You may have a few things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.”

2018: I’m texting with my husband throughout the day. Whether he’s busy or not, he will hear from me. I usually get the first word. And the last.

Make the evening his

1950: “Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to come home and relax.”

2018: I go out once in a while with my girlfriends, I have a theatre subscription with my mother and encourage my husband to go out too. As long as we coordinate our schedules, there’s no problem. And once in a while, if we are organized and find the time, we even go out together.

The goal

1950: “Try to make your home a place of peace and order, where your husband can renew himself body and spirit.”

2018: That’s why there’s yoga.

My life isn’t actually quite that hectic, but ladies, we have come a long way since this piece was published almost 70 years ago. While I believe that women are still (and may always be) responsible for the brunt of the running of the home, with most of us putting in a long hard day at work, our husbands have stepped up and share much more of the load.

I hope these 1950’s tips gave you a good chuckle. I definitely had a few giggles as I read them. Ladies, take care of your man today. And gentlemen, take care of your ladies, every day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!                                                                                                                    

I’m Glad that Children Like to Climb Trees

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My son participated in a couple of snowboard competitions this weekend. Competition is new for him, and I told him to try his best and have fun. Competitive sports can be challenging for children (adults too!), causing undue stress to achieve. Matthew took it all in stride. He pushed himself to try something new, and I think he went out there, on the race course and terrain park, and had a good time. On the drive back to our country house, after a long day of skiing and snowboarding, in the middle of other conversations, Matthew started to talk about climbing trees, and it got me thinking.

What does a snowboard competition have to do with climbing trees, you may ask? Nothing really. But then again, as I think about it, and one thought leads to the next, they have a lot in common.

As parents, we expect so much of our children. We want them to be responsible, mature and to achieve. We push them, sometimes through competitive sports, maybe a bit too hard. It occurred to me that sometimes kids just want to be kids. I don’t know at what point during our lives, maybe it’s a sudden moment or gradual change, when we grow up. What I mean by that is, when does it happen that we don’t want to climb trees anymore?

Before the big renovation and addition that our family undertook at the country house last year, there was a huge evergreen tree beside the house. It had big branches and had grown over the years in a slightly abnormal manner. it was a magnet for all children to climb. As adults, we considered the idea of climbing this strange-looking tree out of the question. How many times did my father yell at Matthew to stop climbing that tree?

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This is my mother, circa 1991, just after this famous tree was planted.
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My three children in front of the same tree, 26 years later, days before the tree was cut down to make way for the addition.

But a kid is a kid, and most kids like to climb trees. And jungle gyms, And furniture. Sometimes they climb on their parents, or poles or fences. As adults, we scorn this behaviour and sometimes look on and scream in horror. But didn’t we do this too when we were children?

I don’t ski all that fast, and when I look at the jumps in the terrain park I feel like I may have a stroke if I even attempt them. But when I was ten years old I wanted to learn how to go fast and to fly high in the air anytime I saw a jump on the ski hill. I climbed the three giant trees with my brother and sister in our front yard, usually because the adults told me not to.

I did cartwheels across my backyard and kept practicing until I could really do the splits with my legs. My brother and I played baseball and hockey in the middle of my street, and I always thought it was cool to ride my bike with no hands.

The best activity at a restaurant was taking an empty glass and filling it with various liquids and condiments within reach. Have you ever tried orange-coke-ketchup-mustard-soy sauce-salt-pepper drink? My aunt says it’s tasty!

Snowboarding at top speed, doing a 180 degree turn over a jump, and climbing trees have a lot in common. They are what kids love to do. And I love that kids, especially my kids, love to do them. I don’t know when the day will come that my son will slow down and slide through a jump on his snowboard or stare at the beauty of a tree instead of climbing it, but I hope it doesn’t happen anytime soon.

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Matthew flying down the hill at his competition this weekend

**Quick note: the airborne child you see in the feature photo at the top of the story is my nephew, Max. He really loves to fly!

There were Three in the Bed

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It has been a busy week, for me, my family and the world around me in general. As I wrote last year, when I first created this blog, life is busy. I always seem to be in motion, trying to balance the many demands in my life. Here is a place that I can think, reflect, discuss, debate, and just write. When I feel like I am so busy that I don’t have time for this blog, I remind myself that I have to make time for this new passion of mine. I feel lucky every day that I found this avenue to share my thoughts. So, share my thoughts is what I will do today. Not deep thoughts, just some musings about the sleeping habits of the people in my household and the bed hopping that happens every night.

When my first child was born, over ten years ago, I went to great pains to find the perfect crib. It had to be safe yet stylish. It had to be functional and a bit fab. The baby furniture was delivered and set up just in time for baby Matthew to arrive home from the hospital. I carefully placed my three-day-old son into his new crib, and he screamed. He hated it. My newborn knew what he liked: my bed.

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early cuddles with Daddy for Matthew

I am not going to debate the merits of co-sleeping, sleep training, cribs or beds. I just know what I know – and I know that all three of my children preferred, from the first day of their lives, through today, to cuddle up tight with me, in my bed. Whether it’s good for them (or me!) or not, is not the issue. They like my bed, or someone else’s bed. But not their own, and especially not a crib.

We tried hard to convince baby Matthew to like his crib. By eleven months old he would stand and lean on the railing and scream. I will admit that part of my brilliant child’s challenge was that he could stand but couldn’t figure out how to sit down. But I knew he wanted out.

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Even with his cousin, Matthew hated to go near his crib.

Julia was a bit smarter, and when she was fifteen months old she figured out how to climb up the crib’s railing and jump out. She was a bit of an escape artist and was pleased that she figured out how to get out of the crib and high tail it to my bed. Julia was a bed-hopper from a very young age.

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Newborn Julia quickly discovered where she wanted to sleep.
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It didn’t take long for Julia to discover Matthew’s bed
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Sharing doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping
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Julia discovered the joys of a crib at age 6, when Nessa was born.

Nessa is my strong-minded and yet also lazy and stubborn baby. I feel like she knew how to say no days after she was born. She was determined to hate her crib, the same one that her brother and sister used, from the first time she saw it. Just say the word crib near Nessa and she shakes her head no. Nessa knows what she wants: my bed.

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Nessa knew early on how much she loved a cuddle in my bed with her big sister

They all want my bed, or maybe any bed that’s not their own. Bed-hopping each night is an art in my house. Rarely do any of us wake up in the morning in the same bed we started in the night before. Every combination of people moves around and settles in beds around our house every day.

I am thankful that my children love each other and like to snuggle up together. When they refuse to go to bed it’s often easiest to put them into one bed, cuddled up close, and hope that they put each other to sleep. It usually works. They wander around the house and find other beds as the night wears on, but I think they enjoy their time together in one bed.

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These two still like to cuddle up close at night

As I write this, it’s late on Wednesday night and everyone is asleep in my house. Nessa is passed out in Matthew’s bed, which she took over as her own  (she won’t even look at her crib). Matthew is asleep in my bed, with some sporting event blaring on the TV. Julia is actually asleep in her own bed, but that won’t last long. In a few hours, they will all travel to a different location around the house. Sometimes my house is like Union Station in the middle of the night, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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This is how I found them a few months ago when they put each other to bed

My Toddler is a Menace

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She’s everywhere. And I mean everywhere. If Nessa is awake, then she is on the move. I know that toddlers are active and curious little beings. I’ve had three of them. But wow, this toddler takes the cake.

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Enjoying her mess.

Is it a third child thing to be a toddler menace? I am a middle child, so it’s easy for me to say this. My other two children were definitely active and curious toddlers. I remember when Matthew was an infant we bought all kinds of baby proofing equipment for the kitchen, bathrooms and electrical outlets. We set up a baby gate at the top of the stairs and were ready for anything.

We never used any of it.

He wasn’t interested. If I gave Matthew a couple of pots and a spoon in the kitchen, that kept him busy. If I put him in his bedroom to play, he sat with his toys and books and basically just stayed there.

Julia kicked it up a notch and was a more calculating, curious toddler. She was not a menace, but she quietly hid precious items in unfindable places and giggled in a sly way when she knew she did something wrong. She still does.

But Nessa is a menace to society. And she doesn’t even walk yet! My adorable and quite loveable third child travels around on her bum. I call it “bum walking.” It takes quite a bit of talent and strong abs to move around at the speed that she does. She was quite the lump of a baby for the longest time and wasn’t interested in moving at all. When she started to scoot around, slowly, on her bum, we were amused.

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Nothing stays on her feet for long.
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Interesting hat.
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Taking her loot for a ride in the doll stroller

Over the following months, Nessa perfected the art of bum walking, and now that she has combined that with standing and climbing, she can move around quickly and grab anything she wants.

Nessa can open cabinet doors, drawers and even zippers. If it’s within her reach or close to it, she eyes it and goes after it. She has some favourites:

  • Kitchen pantry: removes a mix of spice jars and chocolate chips one by one and scatters them on the floor
  • Kitchen utensils drawer: deftly opens it and takes out tongs, serving spoons and whisks. She particularly likes to open the oven warming drawer as well and drop her treasure in.
  • The water cooler: she figured out that if she pushes on the blue or white buttons that water comes out. Fun!
  • Diaper bag: whether it’s open or not, if she can reach it, she opens it and empties it.
  • Bookshelf: Nessa loves her books and it’s adorable to watch her “read.” It’s not as much fun when she feels the need to read every book on her shelf out all at the same time.
  • Cables: in particular iPhone cables. Nessa likes to chew on them. Yes, I know, that’s a problem.
  • Anything that belongs to her brother and sister
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Elastic bands block her way
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If the doors are open, she dives in.
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Creating one of her early masterpieces – after she dumped the crayons and a stack of paper on the floor.
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That’s how Nessa likes to sit on her little chair

The list goes on and on. It’s hard to get angry with her because she is just so cute. Oh, and she often sings to herself as she scoots around the house, looking for the next place to cause trouble. Could you get angry with this face?

Maybe Nessa is just really intelligent, way beyond her years (or months, she is only a one-year-old). Could it be that her tremendous curiosity is a sign of her need to explore the world and soak it all up before she turns two?

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Or is she just a menace? Cute and cuddly, but one little troublemaker.

I would love to hear stories about other toddler menaces. Were you one? Do you or did you have a child in this category? Am I right about the third child? Leave me a comment here, post your thoughts on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.

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The only time she stops moving.

Skiing Takes my Stress Away

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I would not consider myself an athlete. When asked if I play sports like baseball or hockey, my answer is often, “those who don’t play, watch.” I like to watch sports and love to talk about them, especially with my son. But not always. There is one sport in which I actively participate: downhill skiing.

My parents first put me on a pair of skis when I was four years old. I don’t actually remember what it felt like that first time as I was so young. It was a time before young children learned about “pizza’ and “french fries” on the ski hill. I learned the basics of snow plow and found my way down.

Our family skied at various places in Ontario and Quebec. Well-known Laurentian hills like Mont Tremblant, Mont Saint Saveur and Morin Heights gave me my first early exposure to good quality skiing conditions. I took lessons at a small place in Ontario called Devil’s Elbow, and sometimes we ventured further to places like Blue Mountain, and more recently, to Alpine Ski Club.

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First day selfie on the ski hill this season

Note that I keep using the word “we.” That’s important. Skiing was a sport my whole family did together – my parents, brother and sister too (she was on skis before she was even three!). No matter how busy we were all week, in the winter our family jumped in the car on a Saturday morning (or during a winter vacation) and headed to the ski hill. It was our break from life and a chance to spend quality time together.

Think about all the sports in which you participate or watch. How many of them can a family all do together, as one unit? Or even if a family can, do they? Skiing is one of those. I felt privileged as a child and even more so now as an adult, to be able to ski every winter weekend with my family.

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David tested out snowboarding a few years ago. A rare picture of us on the hill together
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I think we take too many selfies on the hill.
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Cousins testing out the ski hill at night, for some railing fun.

And when I say my family – I mean my parents, my siblings and their families and my husband and children too. It’s a rite of passage in our family. A baby learns to walk, then run, then ski. And the diaper is still on!

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Two-year-old Matthew gets some instruction from his Zaidy during his first season on skis
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Matthew, in blue, on skis for the first time at age 2, with his big cousins.
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Julia, age two, on skis
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We start them young. Matthew took Nessa for a mini ride when she was less than a year old
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We just had to take a selfie last winter during Nessa’s first visit to the ski hill

As any ski family will agree, getting ready to go skiing in the morning, in a house with piles of children (more on our family country home another day) can be a rather unpleasant and sometimes downright horrible experience. At the height of the season we are 16 people in the house – an even 8 adults and 8 children. The children range in age from one to fifteen. And no one cooperates. Someone is always crying or screaming or fighting with a sibling. Socks are lost. The previous day’s long under wear wasn’t washed because a child forgot to put it in the laundry. A glove was left at the ski hill the day before and a tantrum ensues.

We rush to the car, zoom to the hill and deal with the next level of craziness: get the kids out, strap their skis and snowboards to their feet and throw them on the hill. Someone is usually crying, screaming or fighting yet again. Is it all worth it?

Yes.

Once I am at the top of the mountain and look down at the sparkling white snow ahead of me all my stress disappears. I can let go. I am free. All the craziness of the week, my career and my family melt away. I let my skis take me down the hill. Yes, it is all worth it.

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The view I love. That’s Julia, my father and Matthew sliding down the hill together last year.
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There’s always a fun mix of family on the hill, like my mother, nephew and daughter.

It’s about minus 15 outside today, and I am in the city and unable to go skiing. But tomorrow, well that’s another story. It may be cold outside (okay, it is insanely freezing), but I will be out there on the ski hill doing my thing. As will my parents, siblings their kids, my kids and maybe even my husband (okay, not the baby, she will be in the daycare). And I will be skiing every weekend this winter. If you need to find me, look for me on the hill.

Nightmares from Bambi

Bambi

I was horrified as I watched the movie. I almost couldn’t look at my TV screen. It was just too terrifying. When would she die? How would he react? It was too much for me. And it was a Disney movie. A really bad, yet classic, Disney movie. Have you ever seen Bambi?

I am quite sure I saw Bambi as a child, many years ago. Clearly I didn’t remember it at all. I watched it with my kids on Sunday night, and it was awful. Maybe the problem was that I knew the plot. Or to put it another way, I knew that Bambi’s mother would be killed during the movie. But I didn’t know when.

Would she die soon after Bambi was born, the first time in the meadow, or a bit later, when they nibble on the first grass of spring? I know his mother’s death, by the gunshot of a hunter, was not the only focus of this 1942 film, but it’s all I could focus on.

Bambi’s friends, the furry bunny named Thumper and cute little skunk named Flower, are adorable, sure. The singing birds are sweet too. And oh, his love and devotion to the fawn, Faline, is admirable. But that’s meaningless.

I sat on the couch with my kids, and even they knew, from the first scene when Bambi was born, that his mother would die. We even made jokes about it.  All we could think about as we watched this classic cartoon, when will Bambi’s mother die?

When it finally happened, when Bambi safely made it back into the forest and his little voice called out over and over again, “Mother,” it got even worse. Bambi’s father suddenly appeared, scaring the poor little deer, he said, in his strong voice, “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” So we started to yell back at the TV, “Of course not, she’s dead.”

 

I guess we all tried to deal with our feeling of utter horror as we watched the movie by using humour that was even worse.

And this is a movie for children? What? This movie is dark and kind of terrifying. What about the scene with the birds in the trees? They talk about feeling that the hunters are near. One bird urges another, who is clearly very agitated, to just stay quiet and still. But to no avail.

This very anxious bird can’t take it anymore and yells, “We better fly.” And it does. It flies into the air, then we hear a gun shot. Then a blood-soaked, dead bird drops to the ground. All in cartoon. I was traumatized. And I’m 41 years old!

 

Why do people automatically think that if it’s a cartoon then it’s a movie for children? Or at least maybe they did 75 years ago? This movie tackles some very mature and disturbing issues, most of which are way beyond anything a child should learn about in a movie. If my 7-year-old wants to learn about murder and guns, she can watch the 11:00 pm news with me.

Thank goodness Bambi has a running time of only one hour and ten minutes. Even that was too long. I’m glad it all ended in the usual happy Disney way, as Bambi mates with his love, Faline, and his babies are born. But the trauma of waiting for his mother to be killed still haunts me. Maybe next time I will just watch an episode of The Simpsons. They are a nice, normal family.

There’s Nothing Like a Bedtime Story

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Did your parents read to you at bedtime when you were a child? If you are a parent, do you or did you read to your kids at bedtime? For me, the answer is YES and YES. I believe that books, and reading in general, are an important part of an enriching life. But there is something special about reading to a child or being read to. A bedtime story is the perfect way to send us off to sleep.

I have been reading books to my three children since the day each of them were born. We started off with simple but classic board books, like Goodnight Moon, The Hungry Caterpillar or The Going to Bed Book. A baby doesn’t have much of an attention span and has a tendency to tear or chew on the book if she or he gets bored. A number of our board boards have teeth marks in them!

Once the tearing, shredding and biting phase has passed we move up to slightly longer, paper books, and we have dozens in this category all over the house. My kids’ bedrooms contain a good-sized library of classic and new children’s stories, like Madeline, The Little Red Caboose, Pinkalicious, Corduroy, and one of my all-time favourites, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.

Corduroy, about a bear who lived in a department store and searched for his missing button, shaped how I felt about stuffed animals. He wasn’t just a stuffed bear, he became a child’s friend. My parents read this book to me at bedtime when I was a child, and I love reading Corduroy to my children.

I have also now moved into reading chapter books to my children. I have tackled some light and shorter books with my daughter that usually have a main character that is either a dog or mermaid without much of a plot, but she loves them. And she looks forward to the time we spend together, cuddled up in her bed, to read our bedtime story.

I have been reading chapter books with my son for a number of years. Our first big series was Harry Potter. With seven books and thousands of pages, it took us almost 2 years to complete the series. When we hit some exciting parts or the climax of each book we just couldn’t stop reading. I will admit that we had a few late nights when we couldn’t put the book down. The fact that I had read the books two times on my own before was irrelevant. Reading them with my son was a different and wonderful experience.

With Matthew’s love of sports, and his love of reading, we have now moved onto reading baseball biographies together. Thanks to my Uncle Bill, who gave Matthew a number of books over the summer, we are learning about some of baseball’s greatest players. And when do we read? In the evening, at bedtime.

Last night we really got into the biography of Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. We have only read the first few dozen pages, but Matthew is already hooked. He is learning about Paige’s early years and the challenges a poor black child faced growing up in the U.S. South. He is asking me very poignant questions, and it thrills me that we have the time together to read and learn about this amazing man and this important part of history.

Whether it’s Goodnight Moon, Corduroy or Harry Potter, I relish every bedtime story I read to my children. It is one of the highlights of my day, and I always look forward to it. What is your favourite bedtime story? Leave me a comment here, post on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.