Sunday, 16 July 2017

An Authentic Summer Moment...Gas and all.

I ate a hot dog yesterday. From a street vendor.

There is much about that collection of words that is unusual.

I really don't like hot dogs. Never have. Not even as a kid. Not even at a picnic, barbecue, or a ball game.  There is something extraordinarily distasteful to me about a casing stuffed with unknown innards roasting on a ubiquitous street cart that passes for an outdoor restaurant. And honestly, veggie hot dogs kind of define everything that is wrong with trying to turn meat dishes into vegan fare. They are tasteless, chewy, spongy, and filled with so much sodium as to mask and substitute for what they are lacking. I have often joked that I would be much happier with just a toasted hot dog bun off the cart filled with all the toppings. I really love hot dog toppings.

Hot dogs are also not what anyone would call easy on my digestive tract. Without getting into ugly descriptors of stomach ailments, if I am going to suffer the after effects, I'd rather suffer them for junk food I truly enjoy like ice cream, chocolate, or greasy french fries. Hot dogs are frankly a waste of a good calorie-binge.

So the question becomes, why did I choose to indulge in a street dog yesterday?

The Husband and I have been making a concerted effort to get to know our still-sort of-newish neighbourhood this summer. Since we moved late last August and then left for The Southern Home only a few months later, we really didn't get as much of a chance as we would have liked to explore and experience all that our new urban digs had to offer. So this summer, we have searched out the festivals, the neighbourhood farmer's markets, the walking trails, the street art, and the natural vibrancy of downtown Toronto. (When people tell me that they have never been to Toronto and want to visit, I always joke and tell them to come in the summer. Not that winter doesn't have its charms, although I personally struggle to find them, but Toronto in the summer is a fantastic place.)

None of this explains why I ate a hot dog.

Yesterday, we decided to walk over to the City Hall Art Show. This outdoor exhibition is an annual favourite of ours. We spent several hours meandering through the assortment of booths, stopping on occasion to chat with the artists and just enjoying Shabbat amidst soaking humidity and soaring temperatures. That's another thing about Toronto in the summer. There is never a perfect weather day. As we made our way back towards home, both of us noted that we were hungry. We were hoping to check out some of the new food trucks at City Hall, but as fate (or city council) would have it, there were only chip and ice cream trucks. As we approached Queen and Spadina, The Husband finally stumbled upon a street meat vendor and the die was cast. Summer in the city. Feel and taste the experience. I could feel the indigestion burbling as he grilled the thing. Tell me something, as an aside. Why does it take longer to grill a veggie dog than it does a regular dog? Is there some pretence working here that if the vendor spends longer on cooking non-meat, it might seem and taste like real meat? Are we worried more about ptomaine or e-Coli in a veggie dog than in a standard dog?

As the vendor worked at his craft, I was far more interested in the street musicians playing on the corner. These guys weren't just jamming for nickels and dimes, they were fricking amazing. Billed as The Big Smoke Brass Band, they are a collection of five wondrously talented guys who have been moving from intersection to intersection this summer in order to get heard. And heard they were. The people at Queen and Spadina literally stopped in their tracks to listen. (This video isn't mine, but you can at least get a feel for their sound. I found trying to record while holding onto a hot dog a first-world social media challenge.)

I was almost disappointed when the hot dog was ready. We stayed a bit longer to listen and then we were off on our wild new journey towards dyspepsia.

So, yes....I ate a hot dog yesterday and yes.....I am paying a huge price for it today. But I figure it was worth it. It was a small price to pay for a truly authentic Toronto summer moment. If we hadn't stopped for the hot dog, I wouldn't have been blessed with the talent of these young men. It almost makes up for my seriously messed up digestive tract.

Check out Big Smoke Brass on social media. They often list where they will be playing next. 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Camp is For the Campers

To all parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles and other assorted adults who are currently experiencing child withdrawal because your kid is at overnight camp:

I say this with the utmost compassion and love....BACK THE HELL OFF!

Stop updating and refreshing those camp photo websites in a desperate search to find your kid. And when you do happen to find them, stop posting those pictures on social media. Cut out the daily updates. Cease and desist, parents. It's time to cut the cord.

It's fabulous that Johnny or Jenny had a great day waterskiing, sailing, or dancing. I'm so thrilled that they are settling in and enjoying their camp experience, but here's the thing....that was their day, not yours. This vicarious social media blitz really must stop.

I know. You miss them. I get it. I also get that you want them to be happy, safe, and comfortable. I get that you need to see tangible evidence of that happiness and share it with the world, but speaking from personal experience as a long-time camper, counselor, unit head, and parent of all of those aforementioned, you are doing a great disservice to both your child and yourself by peering into a world in which you absolutely DO NOT belong.

Overnight camp is about so much more than fun activities. It is the first place that many kids get to flex their independence and make choices that maybe mom and dad wouldn't necessarily make for them or even worse, disapprove of. They learn conflict resolution, how to clean up after themselves, how to deal with disappointment, success, failure, first loves, first kisses, new food choices, teamwork, self-advocating, friendships, dealing with people that can be difficult, and most importantly they are doing all of this without parents around to tell them how to do it. When you digitally spy on them (yes...I said, spy!) you are intruding on their privacy. Maybe they don't want you to see them holding hands with somebody? Maybe they had a bad day and don't want to be photographed. Maybe they are deliriously happy but they simply aren't interested in sharing it with you. I realize that might be difficult to hear, but it's true. There are things that happened at camp over forty years ago that I still haven't told my parents about, and that's as it should be.

My dear friend the camp director from my own camping days was always adamant in his mantra that "camp is for the campers." This constant obsession of parents scouring photo websites changes that dynamic. Suddenly, there are no surprises. Parents know far more than they should and kids will have less excitement to share with you when they return home.

Look. I understand that you worry. I know that there is a giant-sized hole. But trust me...if there is a major problem, the camp will contact you. Is your child homesick? Maybe. But trust the camp and their competent staff to deal with it. If it is more than they can handle, you will know. Has your child failed to write? Possibly. But that could be a good thing. When Older Son first went to camp at the tender age of 8, (by himself, on an airplane, and crossing an international border!) we didn't get a single letter, save for the introductory postcard. He was simply too busy and too happy to care.  

Use this time when your child is at camp to reconnect with your spouse or friends or yourself. My mother used to say that the only pots on the stove during the summer were flower pots and that the kitchen was closed. Have fun. Eat out a few more times and cook a few less. Sleep in on weekends. See friends. Enjoy a brief respite from parenthood and trust that your child is in good hands.

And write them letters. Campers love and need to get mail. It is fun for them and a gentle reminder of home. Tell them about the dog or what you have been up to. But seriously...stay away from those photo sites. They aren't helping either you or your kid. Content yourself with the odd picture that the camp puts up on Facebook to let you know everything is just fine and then go and let your camper enjoy his/her summer.

In my next post maybe I will tackle why Visitor's Days are a nightmare for all and should be abolished unless a camper is staying over sessions.