We took the kids to the TFC

We’re a pretty literate and art-loving family. We have shelves of books and records that line our walls. We encourage creativity and like visiting museums and galleries. The kids take piano. You know, that kind of thing.

But we have also been having a great time enjoying sports as a family.

We just came off a summer that was filled with t-ball tournaments and practices and games and watching the Jays on TV. Hockey is starting, too, and both Colum and Irene play. (Mary demands to know when she can start too.)

So we jumped at the chance to go to a blogging event at the Toronto FC last weekend, rounding out our Toronto live sporting event checklist nicely. Leafs, Jays, Argos, Rock, Marlies, the baseball Maple Leafs, and now the TFC. Checkity, check, check.

I really love that BMO Field is in the CNE grounds. It brings back childhood memories of watching Jays games with my dad and brother in the cheap seats before hitting up the midway rides while the Ex was on. We found street parking in Liberty Village and walked through the tunnel from the Go Train station to get there. (But it was a frenzy of happy TFC-fan madness squeezing back out through that tunnel, so heads up. Be prepared to duck out early or to wait it out if you take that route with kids.)

Of course, our event had a few special perks.

TFC warm up field level

We got to check out the team warming up at field level.

TFC players' tunnel

Then there were high fives in the players tunnel. (Little Mary was SO into that.)

Dwayne De Rosario

Meeting the TFC and the Canadian national team’s all-time leading scorer, Dwayne De Rosario.


Then there was watching the game itself and noshing on foot-long hot dogs and giant soft pretzels.

My personal highlight was when I asked Irene if she wanted to help me get some food at the concession stand while the game was on and she looked torn. “But … I don’t want miss any of the game!” That’s my not-quite seven-year-old girl. Of course, Mary was eager to come help me which was really no help at all.

If any of you are TFC fans and want to get DISCOUNTED TICKETS for either the October 14th or October 17th game, listen carefully. Follow this link to order your tickets and then enter the promo code KEENANTFC. Then have fun!

Brunch after baby

Brunch after baby at Bareburger

“You know what I miss the most? Brunch.”

“Me too.”

This was an actual conversation I once had with my sister-in-law, and truer words have never been spoken.

That’s not to say  you can’t go out for brunch after you have kids. I mean, on the face of it, brunch is the perfect family-friendly meal. It’s casual, it’s before nap time, and between pancakes, scrambled eggs and fruit salad, odds are pretty good your kids will eat something.

But the reality is that what was once a relaxing, indulgent, weekend pastime is now some sort of Olympic-caliber extreme sport that involves speed, juggling, super-human levels of distraction, an eating competition, and then finally math. You have to place your order as soon as possible — before you even get seated ideally but they frown on that. Then you have to keep hungry and impatient tots seated and quiet (read “not screaming”) until the food comes which could take a small eon since the place is packed and there’s only so much food mortal human beings can cook at one time, restaurant or not.

Finally, the food comes and you ask for the bill right away because you know that you don’t want to have to subject the other patrons to your children for one second longer than necessary. You cut up, dole out, de-garnish, and otherwise get all your kids’ food taken care of until you finally sit down to cold eggs and soggy toast. Everybody inhales their food as quickly as possible and then you suck back your coffee while dropping a minimum of $50 on the table.

See, it’s possible to go out for brunch with a young family. It just sucks.

It sucks so bad that when I got an invitation to check out the new family-friendly brunch menu at the Toronto location of Bareburger, I only took my nine-year-old. I wanted to enjoy my meal for once and I didn’t know what the lay of the land was.

It turns out that quick service, retro cartoons, large and accessible washrooms, and delicious kids’ menu means I probably could have brought the whole gang.

And that really is the key. Go to a place before it gets busy. (I cannot stress that enough. Don’t do line ups with little kids.) And go to a place where you know your family is going to be comfortable.

Oh, and did I mention chicken and waffles? And milkshakes? (Thanks, Bareburger. Those were delicious.)

A simple eye check-up caught a problem I would never have found and put my daughter back on the learning track

Big thanks to the Doctor’s of Optometry for sponsoring this post.

A simple eye check up makes a difference


Image credit courtesy Flickr cc license.

I almost missed it altogether.

It was one of those weeks — you know how it goes. I was bleary-eyed one morning last fall, pulling out yesterday’s lunches from backpacks in order to make room for today’s. As I reached in and pulled out ever more paperwork to add to the teetering pile I needed to fill out, eventually, a date caught my eye.

There was going to be a routine vision and hearing screening at the school and the forms were due back that very day. I quickly filled out the forms and then I promptly forgot all about it.

My kids could see and hear just fine, I was convinced. I mean, I would KNOW if there was a problem with their eyesight … wouldn’t I? Never mind that my son’s best friend just got glasses after a check-up with the Doctor of Optometry and his parents didn’t suspect a thing. I was sure that I would know. So, I was very surprised when my six-year-old daughter came home a couple of weeks later with with a letter suggesting we follow up with a Doctor of Optometry.

But, guess what? Eye exams for kids with a Doctor of Optometry are fully covered by OHIP (and most other provincial medical plans). So why have we not been doing this all along?

We saw the most wonderful Doctor of Optometry who diagnosed my daughter with an eye muscle imbalance. An eye muscle what? I’d never even heard of it! Basically, her eyes were not moving in sync, causing her to have difficulty focusing on things at close range, and I could suddenly see how it was impacting her learning.

My daughter is a bright girl and a diligent student, but learning to read is a continuing challenge for her. And now, at the very least, the puzzle pieces were starting to come together. The way she’d be able to read the first couple of pages of a storybook fairly well and then suddenly start struggling; how she’d only look at the first letter of a word and then take a guess; how she’d turn her entire body away when I asked her to just follow along with her eyes while I did the reading; and how she was able to read larger font fairly well, but not smaller  — this all made sense now that I understood that is physically difficult for her to focus on the print.

We’ve been working with our Doctor of Optometry for almost a year now, doing exercises called pencil push-ups to strengthen her eye muscles and help her overcome the imbalance. It’s an ongoing process, but I can see a definite improvement. Now that we know what the challenge is, we are able to take the right steps toward correcting it.

But think how close I was to missing this problem altogether. Even if we did end up seeing a Doctor of Optometry the very next year, we would be a year behind diagnosing the problem and a year behind working to help make reading easy for her.

The truth is that we can’t know how well our kids can see. They don’t even know! One in four school-aged children has a vision problem, but many of those are seemingly symptomless. I would never have guessed my daughter had anything wrong with her eyes. Regular check-ups by a Doctor of Optometry are vital.

Also, also, also! There’s a contest you can enter! Until November 9 you can enter the Children’s Vision Month Contest where you have the chance to win the grand prize of $2500 towards an RESP or other educational savings plan, a HP Hybrid laptop, $500 gift card to a top sporting goods store and $300 in goods and services from a Doctor of Optometry (excluding eye exams). There are also weekly prizes to be given away. Good luck!

This post has been brought to you by Doctors of Optometry, but the images and opinions are my own. For more information, please visit http://www.doctorsofoptometry.ca.

So pathetic that I wrote this post on the subway using my phone

So my kids are in school now which gives me a little breathing room. It does not, however, seem to turn me into a fully functional adult human being.

Like just now, for example. I figured if I brushed on some mascara and threw a blazer over my jeans and t-shirt, I would be evening-event ready.

I literally had one foot out the door when I remembered my keys were in the kitchen. There, I happened to glance down and realized I’d managed to dust the entire front of my black t-shirt with flour while making dinner.

I wiped myself off and was running down the street when I noticed a fluffy tangle of threads clinging to the top of my pants. I tried to pluck it off and it started unravelling. Stretchy threads were being pulled from all the way across my waist like I was a worn out teddy bear.

It was . . .

And then suddenly I understood.

I was wearing an old pair of period panties and the elastic waist band was unravelling.

I was going out to mingle with people at a professional event with a wet t-shirt and ever-expanding cluster of granny-panty threads hanging from my pants.

But people will notice that I’m wearing good mascara, right?

A delightful true story full of Christmas spirit

Last week my friend Aaron Milic posted the most delightful story on Facebook and he gave me permission to share it here.  Aaron had visited The Bay at Yonge and Queen and shared a picture of a Christmas display with the caption, “Way too early, Bay.” Here’s what happened after, in Aaron’s words:

"Way too early, Bay."

“Way too early, Bay.”

This story is too good not to share.

After I posted my picture of the Christmas decorations at the Bay and said it was “way too early,” I had some dinner in the Eaton Centre food court: a giant Kale salad.

I got a nice seat at a table for four. An older man with a long white beard, round glasses, a fedora, and hearing aid sat down right next to me, and said in a slight German accent, “Ah, I should have gotten what you have there.” He just had a big cookie in his hand. I pointed to where I got the salad from, and he said, “I haven’t been down here in many years; I live up north now.”

He then went on to talk about how much Yonge Street has changed, how it seemed cleaner and safer now. He asked me, “So what do you do for recreation?” and I told him I sing in an a cappella quartet and that my main job is DJing weddings.

He said, “Ah, you are in the arts, as am I. I play the uh…” and he started turning his left hand slowly in a circle and I said, “Oh, you’re an organ grinder?” He smiled and said ,”Yes, you guessed it! That’s what I do.” I said that my father was born in Germany and had mentioned the organ grinders, and he seemed happy that my father was German. He talked about Germany a bit and his profession.

As I finished my salad, I said, “Well, next year my group is doing a Christmas concert. If it seems appropriate, maybe we could hire you to be a part of it.” He replied, “That sounds like fun, but as long as it’s not too close to Christmas. I’m always very busy in December.”

He reached into his wallet and handed me the card pictured below. I said, “Oh, your name is Klaus? My name is Aaron.” And he just smiled, as if he already knew my name, shook my hand, winked, and walked away.

Organ Grinder Klaus

I don’t usually encourage children to read this blog. (In fact, I discourage it.) But for this, I’ll make an exception.

Aaron Milic is a Toronto-based wedding DJ at Impact Entertainment and is part of the a cappella singing group, After Hours. I’m so glad he took the time to tell us such a charming story.

Indoor school shoes and the germaphobic gluttony of our time

Indoor school shoes waste

Image credit via Flickr cc license.

“Mom, my teacher says I need indoor shoes for school. Ones that haven’t ever been worn outside.”


This isn’t my first time around the grade school block, so it’s not that I’m surprised. It’s just that …


Every time I think about how utterly unnecessary it is for my kids to …

STILL. SMASHING …. OKAY. Now, I’m good.

Sorry ’bout that. I know from talking to other parents, and from airing out my grievances on Twitter last night, that you either completely agree with me and are in the midst of your own Hulk smash, or you think I’m crazy. So let me show you around my crazy.

First, you need to understand my absolute, undying, belief that good running shoes are the absolute, best, everyday shoe for growing kids of any gender. They need these shoes to participate in gym classes, but they also need them to support all the flat out running, jumping, climbing and playing they do all the time.

So my preference (and the obvious choice for most parents) is to buy each child one pair of quality running shoes at the end of every summer that they can basically wear all the time until winter. Then they will leave those shoes at school and wear boots to and from school until spring. This way I only have to buy one pair each per child per year of running shoes, winter boots, rain boots, sandals, dress shoes and assorted specialty items like skates, cleats and dancing shoes. I just feel like that’s enough.

But no. Many schools (but not all), and some teachers (but not all) within schools where there is no official policy, ask that children also bring indoor shoes (that really have to be running shoes for gym) to be kept at school during the fall and spring. So, if I want my kids to have good running shoes for gym class and for outdoor play, that means two pairs per kid per year!

When I was a child, I cannot imagine the schools demanding that families provide two pairs of the same kind of shoe for their child. Honestly, at our school, kids were lucky if they had warm boots in the winter. Of course, we also ate peanut butter everyday and thought that juice boxes counted as a “fruits and vegetables” serving or two. It was a simpler time.

Simpler time or not, buying extra pairs of shoes is still a stretch for many families. That’s, what, an extra $40 or $50 per child, that could go toward anything else. For a great many people that is money that would be better spent on groceries, rent, debt repayment, extracurricular activities, or things like books and schools supplies. For other people the extra cost doesn’t require such a personal sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean it’s less wasteful. To be honest, this year we can find the money for a second pair of runners for our kids. We’ll be all right. 

But that money could have gone toward further supporting our school’s fundraising efforts, sponsoring a friend who is raising money for charity, paying down debt, saving for the kids’ university educations, or helping a Syrian refugee. There are children in the world who have no shoes, but we need to buy our kids two pairs of the same bloody shoes?

That’s double the number of shoes that end up in a landfill, too, because we can’t bear the idea of wearing the same shoes inside and outside of a building. As I asked on Twitter last night, “When did we become so germaphobic that special inside shoes are always necessary?”

It’s not about the germs, many people said. It’s about the dirt. Okay, fine. Substitute “dirtaphobic” for “germaphobic” then. I think it’s all part of a general societal trend for increased cleanliness and over-sanitation. It’s a  trend, by the way, that scientists think might actually be making us sicker.

I mean, schools are public buildings that house hundreds of children all day, every day. Of course there’s going to be dirt! You can make the kids change their shoes outside their classrooms, but there’s still dirt in the halls. There’s dirt in the stairwells. There’s dirt clinging to their grubby little bodies. There’s little bugs living in their hair half the time, for fuck’s sake.

It’s kind of like when parents insist on spoon feeding their toddlers for months and years on end to prevent a mess. You know what’s easier? Letting them learn to feed themselves and then wiping everything down after.

I’ve also heard the theory that schools have cut back on custodial and cleaning services. I have no idea if that’s right, but it does seem plausible. It does not, however, follow that the cost of keeping the floors reasonably clean should fall onto the shoulders of the families. Let the floors get dirty, I say! And then have them cleaned every once in a while. They are floors.

Alas, it not up to me to shatter the prevailing orthodoxies of our time. All I can do is get all the complaining out of my system. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some shoe shopping to do.

My top five back-to-school tech picks (plus one just for me)

This is the third in a three-part series about helicopter parenting and back-to-school tech shopping that I’m writing as Best Buy Canada‘s parenting spokesperson. Here’s what looks good to me this year.

We all want to give our kids the best learning tools possible and to set them up for a successful school year. But kids and families really do have wildly different needs (and budgets.) You’re average kindergarten student doesn’t actually need any tech at all. He’s still getting max stimulation from crayons and building blocks. Your ultra-creative 16-year-old, though, might really benefit from platforms and software that support graphic design. And what you want or need to buy often depends on what you already own. So the smartest thing to do, by far, is to actually talk to the front-line staff at your local Best Buy. Those Blue Shirts are there to help you decide exactly what your kid does (and does not) need.

That said, here’s what I’m drooling over this year. My top-five tech tools that parents should consider (and one that I want just for me.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Tablets have been the biggest item on the learning tech front for a while. Mobility is their key virtue because what good is the tool that you don’t have with you? And they really are great for pulling up reading material, videos, pictures and online browsing. But they really don’t work as laptop replacements; they are awkward to type on and since they lack a full operating system, they often don’t support key software or work with other devices.

That’s why I don’t even think of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 as a tablet. It’s a full operating system within the body of a tablet. That means you can run any program you would have on your laptop (*cough cough* Word.) It has an adjustable kickstand so that it will stand up and you can buy a magnetic keyboard to work with it. But it’s also a kick-ass tablet with all the high-res, touch screen, and camera features you’d expect; plus it comes with a Surface Pen so you can take handwritten notes too.

If I had to buy one thing to do everything, this would be it.

Asus Zenbook 13.3

ASUS 13.3 Laptop Gold

But if all you need, want or can afford is a basic laptop, you can still get an excellent model for half the price of a Surface Pro. This Asus Zenbook has a zippy processor speed with more than enough memory. It has a great display, eight hours worth of battery power per charge and (this is key) it only weighs 2.6 pounds.

Lifeproof fre power iPhone case

Lifeproof fre power

Of course, your high school and university students are going to have a phone, too. And if you’re paying for that phone, you probably don’t want to pay to replace it — over and over again. Lifeproof phone cases (for iPhone and Samsung) are waterproof, drop-proof, snow and dirt-proof. And the newest iPhone case shown above even holds a backup charge so now matter how exciting your child’s life, they can still keep in touch.


GoPro Hero

I happen to have a kid who is really into making movies and documentaries. The technology for getting a feel for how to execute those kinds of projects is now actually within reach which is awesome. The Go Pro is a tiny, high-res video camera that can be carried around or mounted to a helmet, handlebar, or just about anywhere. It has fancy technology that evens out shaking and jostling for a clear picture. Some models also boast built-in wifi and bluetooth, high-fidelity mics, time-lapse and various other camera modes, and are waterproof.

Skullcandy Hesh 2 headphones

Skullcandy Hesh

These are solid performing mid-priced headphones that are also Bluetooth-enabled and have a built-in microphone for taking phone calls. Headphones may seem like a frill when we’re talking about back-to-school needs, but supporting a love of music and drowning out background noise while studying are two pretty essential functions if you ask me.

Rebecca Minkoff leather wristlet for Galaxy S6 (plus it holds two cards)

Rebecca Minkoff Leather Wristlet

I’m not going to lie. This one’s for me.

Big thanks again to Best Buy Canada for bringing me on board. The other week I gushed about my experience in an actual helicopter over Toronto. Last week I talked about why we really do want to hover over our kids when we’re buying tech. 

Trophies for everyone! (Sorry, James Harrison.)

Trophies for everybody! (Sorry, James Harrison.)

Image credit via Flickr cc license.

I don’t believe in catering to my kids’ tastes when it comes to dinner. I generally try to feed them food they like for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, but I also think it’s important that they are exposed to a variety of different foods and encouraged to try them. It’s important to me, really, that I get to eat what I want, too.

So does that mean that no other parents should ever go for mac and cheese over mussels arrabiata? Is it never okay to offer a peanut butter sandwich and apple slices when coconut curry chicken has been patently rejected? Should we force all our children’s friends and our nieces and nephews to choke back kale salads or bust? Maybe restaurants should stop serving kids’ meals altogether!

But of course they shouldn’t. Just because I feel strongly about making dinner a constant struggle eating a good variety of food, doesn’t mean that also has to be everybody’s priority. To be honest, there are days when I can’t be bothered about it either.

Yet, when it comes to parenting, everyone thinks they know best. People like to insist that their own values and priorities should apply to everyone. Participation medals and trophies for kids are in the spotlight again after Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, James Harrison, posted a picture to Instagram of the trophies his sons received. 


This is all fine and good. Harrison is a professional athlete and teaching his children what it means to work for and earn an award is obviously important to him. But, holy cow, is this ever a popular opinion — and one I’ve seen echoed many times before. Kids these days are given everything for nothing, the thinking goes. They are entitled brats who will never learn how to work hard or cope with disappointment. We must not mollycoddle them!

Ah, whatever, I say. What. Ever.

Give the little kids their trophies for coming out. The more competitive leagues for families and kids who are serious about athletics could probably ditch the participation trophies (if only to spare me yet another hunk of plastic in the home), but house league programs that are about learning and having fun should reward the kids for showing up.

For lots of kids (and especially for younger children), going to practices, learning new skills, and playing as part of a team, actually is an accomplishment. Have you never had to drag a reluctant child out of bed for skating lessons? Or bribed your kids to please just get in the car and go to the game it’s for your own good dammit why does this have to be so hard?

Some kids love team sports and thrive at them and will go on to compete at higher and higher levels. Others are shy, insecure, or physically uncoordinated, and it’s a challenge just to get them to join in. But it’s still good for them! Physical exercise, discipline and team spirit benefits all the players, good and bad alike.

So, at the end of the season, we should absolutely take a moment to recognize every player who worked to make the year a success. We should hand out medals or even trophies to our youngest and weakest to shine a light on the entire season for them. It’s something they can hang up or put on a shelf and look at with pride. When they look back on last year’s season, then, maybe they won’t remember the fights and the tantrums; they’ll remember earning an award as part of a team.

But of course that trophy still says “participant”.

Anybody who thinks kids are fooled into believing they’re the winners just because they got a trophy is fooling themselves. As soon as children are old enough and emotionally mature enough to care about competing, they know who the champions really are. Try having a “just for fun” game of anything with some ten-years and tell them not to keep score. Impossible! They will always keep score.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what we do. Because participation trophies mean as much to competitive children as a big, solid gold, “thanks for coming out” trophy would have meant to Harrison and the Pittsburgh Steelers when they lost the Superbowl XLV to the Greenbay Packers. They mean nothing at all.