As we cruise into the lazy, hazy days of summer, most Canadians really like to take advantage of outdoor activities while we can. Especially after a particularly harsh winter, we will waste no time soaking up patios, inviting friends for bonfires and barbecues, and generally maximizing outdoor social time where possible – because we know there is a finite amount of time until it’s back to shovelling ridiculous amounts of snow.
For those that have kids, summertime might mean taking trips to places that are normally off-limits in winter – like the zoo, an amusement park, a splash pad, or even a lake. This summer, we have been pushing our limits in these areas since our two-year-old has decided (prematurely) that naps are no longer his thing. So, rather than penalizing our four-year-old who absolutely loves such activities just because her brother ends up at donkey threshold every single time, we drag him along with us in what we always hope will be a “Fun Family Outing.” There is a reason this label is in quotes.
About a month ago, we made an attempted family trip to the zoo. We barely made it through the gates before our toddler tried to bolt to some random and miscellaneous location that served no purpose. Fortunately, I know what my son is like, and since impulse control is not really his thing yet, I had his leash with me. If you don’t know my two-year-old, he is basically Houdini when it comes to disappearing if you turn your back for 0.33 of a second. Or, to be more clear, he is absolutely the kid that could have ended up in the Gorilla Exhibit with Harambe. So, go ahead and try to judge me for putting a leash on my kid (I dare you) – but I’d much rather be judged for that than for having my kid be the cause of Harambe’s demise. Alas, while standing in line for Zoo Train tickets, I leashed my toddler who threw the first of about 788 tantrums.
As we proceeded through the day, there were some small moments of grace. Watching the Rhinos was a treat because the baby Rhino had the same name as my son. The giraffes were definitely a hit because of their sheer elegance and size. Yet, for some reason, even though we had the ability to see gorgeous and rare animals from Africa, Asia, and beyond, my son decided that fish were his thing. Who the fuck goes to the zoo to look at fish???? Tearing him away from the fish was about the 238th tantrum of the day, but by this point I became a master toddler handler, and he was somewhat falling for the distraction of new animals. The only beauty by this part in the day, was that my daughter, who is more than capable of handling such outings, was having a ball. My husband and I, were not.
By the time we inched closer to what should be toddler nap time, the Snack Requests started to roll in. There were a finite amount of snacks in our bag, and when the toddler realized that the Snack Bag was not a fridge with a precise selection, we made it to about tantrum 443. All the while, our daughter remained reasonably oblivious to the antics of her little brother. Also, because the boy is obsessed with Mommy and only Mommy when he reaches peak
assholery threshold, my Stage-Five-Clinger of a son had already requested “up” more times than I could count.
All in all, the zoo outing lasted about 5 hours before we bolted the hell out of there. I failed to mention that this outing was attempted on a National holiday, so we naturally parked about 3 time zones away. There I was, walking this great distance to the car, with the toddler who still wanted “up” carrying his tantruming, tired ass. If I count the fact that my daughter was overjoyed and that my arms and back got a killer workout, I guess you could say this outing was worth it. My husband and I, however, looked like boxers in the 15th round – we were so close to defeat and yet so determined to win this round against the toddler. By this point, victory was simply strapping the kids safely into their car seats.
TORONTO ZOO RESULT: Toddler – 1. Parents – 0. Kids’ Overall Enjoyment – 100.
The next trip was the amusement park – and if you measured the outing simply on the excitement of the kids as we rolled up into the parking lot, it would have been a clear win. There was a lot more to this outing than parking, of course. Similar to the zoo, our toddler expressed his extreme discontent as soon as we entered the park. He wanted nothing to do with the reality of waiting in lines (Impulse Control – not his thing – remember?). We were only in the second line of the day, which was only about five minutes long, where each kid got measured to qualify what rides they were tall enough for. By this point, we had been on exactly Zero rides, and the toddler was already in a rage fit on the floor. The day started off on a spectacular foot.
Also, here’s the thing about going to an amusement park with small kids – you have to accept the fact that there will be no adult rides. Any kid less than 4 feet tall can pretty much go on Jack Shit when it comes to roller coasters – so don’t get your hopes up that they day will be about anything but them. Not that any day is ever about anything different then the kids, but I admittedly violated the number one parenting rule about having Low Expectations. I had hopes about getting in one adult ride. Parents – don’t bother. Not if your kids are little.
We started the amusement park day by waiting in what was about a 45 minute line for a haunted house monster ride. Our patient little girl can somehow manage to wait with no issue, but with the toddler – most of the 45 minutes was spent climbing the rails, trying to bolt away from his leash, or on the floor screaming. The tables turned, however, when it finally came time to go on the ride. Our son squealed with content every time we saw a ghost or monster, and our daughter squealed in complete and utter terror. Ride number 1 was nothing short of a comedy of errors, and the day had only just begun.
We managed to go on a few more rides like a tiny ferris wheel, and a merry-go-round. The toddler started to show a scarce amount of patience with waiting in lines, because he began to understand that there was a reward at the end. Our family split up at this point so our taller girl could enjoy some more exciting rides, and I bravely took the toddler solo, so we could go on more
lame toddler-appropriate rides together. We managed a train ride that made his face light up in delight, but waiting in that line was once again a shitshow of epic proportions. We got on a tiny roller-coaster that didn’t even make him flinch, but definitely felt a little whip-lashey to an adult.
After my husband and daughter got off their roller-coaster ride, we met up together with friends for lunch. If I remember right, this was the point where the leash went back on and the rails started to fall off for the toddler. We were going on about the 5th hour at this point, and it took everything we had to get in that One Last Ride. We were probably past the point that we should have been, but our amazing friend still walked with us towards the exit, and with his knowing recognition of our defeat, he bought us a beer. Not that I had an opportunity to enjoy said beer with the Stage-Five-Clinger wanting Up every 2 seconds with mommy, but the solidarity of the gesture from a good friend got us through the last of the boxing round. We made it to the car, again, after a great arm and back workout, and within 3 seconds of the ignition going on, both kids fell asleep.
CANADA’S WONDERLAND RESULT: Toddler – 1. Parents – 0. Kids’ Overall Enjoyment – 100.
The most recent outing we had as a family was at my father-in-law’s house, which happens to be right on a lake. It’s basically kid and adult paradise, but for different reasons which lie in stark contrast to one another. The kids love running around the waterfront at top speed, and even to the adjacent property that had a trampoline and other toys. The adults would love the ability to enjoy the serene sanctuary of a Canadian lakeside waterfront with good company, but that doesn’t really happen because you’re chasing small kids around to make sure they don’t disappear.
The day at the lake was again a day of extremes – the kids were overjoyed to go on a boat ride with grandpa. They threw sticks for their dog. They jumped on the neighbour’s trampoline. They frequently got way too close to the water for comfort, with a few falls. There were a few tantrums for the toddler as we went through the latter part of the day with no nap. And, one last time – we had to make a quick exit right as the rails were falling off, from a visit where we wished we could have stayed longer. Getting the kids to bed was another feat – by that point in the day, the kids were both so overtired they could barely function. Yet, somehow, our toddler managed a 45 minute tantrum that sounded like a demonic Exorcism.
As I looked back on our outing to the lake, wondering if everyone had enough fun to make it worth it, I remembered that there was a moment in the day that surprised me. In an effort to distract my son from all the trouble he was trying to get into, I took him to the end of the dock. We each took off our shoes and I put my feet in the water. His legs were too short to reach the water, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Something about the calmness of the lake tamed his wild soul. For almost an hour, in a rarity of stillness for him, we sat holding hands, looking for fish and turtles, and in almost complete silence. Despite the majority of the day being an exhausting amount of work, I will always remember the beauty of the moment we shared.
When we checked back in with my father-in-law, we were really, really hoping the visit was fun for them too, despite our abrupt exit with overtired kids. He affirmed that despite the fact that the kids are a handful, he loved every minute of it. It seemed, that regardless of the work, the energy, the effort put in by the adults, that all had fun. It seemed, that this was a successful outing.
LAKE VISIT TO GRANDPA’S RESULT: Toddler – 1. Parents – 100. Grandpa – 100. Kids’ Overall Enjoyment – 100.
Maybe that’s what this is about. Five years from how, when I look back on any outing we had with our small kids, I won’t remember the tantrums. I won’t remember the exhaustion, the feeling of defeat, or the amount of work it is for the adults to make the day fun. I will remember the pure joy on their faces from experiencing the zoo animals, the amusement park rides, and the boat rides. I will remember their ear-to-ear smiles and laughter from experiencing life in the present moment – which adults do so rarely. I will remember trying to have meaningful, quality time as a family.
So, yes. I now do think that outings with small children are worth it.