Tag: Parents (page 1 of 3)

Safety versus fun: Finding the balance


Dear Wendy,

The other day I passed by the elementary school that both my kids attended. It was recess time, and I paused for a moment to watch the junior students in the fenced-in play area, as they ran about under the watchful eye of a teacher wearing a reflective orange vest.


I thought back to another early spring day, when Rachel was in Grade 2 at that school. She and Mitchell and I had been walking home one Sunday afternoon when she let out a sudden wail that nearly took my hair off: “IT’S GONE! WHERE DID IT GO?”

Sure enough, the huge, elaborate play structure that had been the centrepiece of the play yard was just…gone. The earth around it had been torn up by machinery, and all the swings, slides, monkey bars, and climbing structures had vanished as though they’d never been there.

Rachel was inconsolable, and we were mystified. The next day we found out the reason: some parents had complained that the play structure was dangerous. What if a kid were to fall off the monkey bars? Or slide down the slide too fast? Or swing too high and fall off? Won’t someone think of the children!?

They’d be replacing the old structure, the principal reassured us. Rachel wasn’t convinced, and it turned out she was right: Grade 2 came and went; Grade 3….and by the time we pulled her out of the school (for other reasons involving an abusive teacher), there was still no sign of the new play structure. Safety trumped fun, and the kids lost out.

Back when you and I were kids, adults didn’t seem to focus quite so much on child safety.


When I was 8 or 9 years old, my best friend Cindy and I would set out through a local abandoned apple orchard on sunny Saturday afternoons. We’d gather apples (small and sour, but we didn’t care), and shove them into our pockets to eat at our destination: an old wooden barn, deserted and decrepit. We’d climb up to the roof via a ladder with several rungs missing, and sit in the sunshine, gossiping and munching on our apples as we looked out over the gnarled apple trees and tried to spot the roofs of our own houses.

Could we have been hurt? Of course! That old barn was full of dangers: rusty nails sticking out of walls, elderly wood that could fall apart under our weight. And who would have heard us if anything had happened?

Yet our parents seemed to take a cavalier attitude to all the dangers that could have befallen us—and in my case, often did. There was the time I fell during a game of tag and gashed my knee on a piece of rusty paint tin. Cindy and her brother Dougie bundled met into her wagon and raced down the hill to our house with me in tow, bleeding profusely and feeling slightly important to be receiving all that attention. Mum took one look at the cut, gave me a handful of tissues to press against it, and drove me to the hospital for several stitches. She didn’t seem distressed, only mildly inconvenienced, as I’d interrupted her day.

I’d like to say I long for the old days, when parents let kids do all sorts of insanely dangerous things: I climbed trees, rode my bike to distant parks, played in partially constructed houses, stepped on nails, and on one memorable occasion, fell into a fire, burning my hands and knees. Such injuries were just the price we paid for being active kids.

But then I think of some of the truly terrible things that have happened, sometimes to children I know: a friend’s son was riding on his father’s shoulders, slipped backward, and fell to the concrete sidewalk. He suffered a severe concussion, with lasting effects. I’ve seen children fall from play structures and break arms; and Mitchell once watched a young child stand up in her mother’s grocery cart, then topple out with a sickening crack as her little head hit the floor.

So as much as I’d like to argue for a return to the carefree days when kids could be kids, I have to admit that our modern focus on safety has a lot of merit. Seat belts and car seats (properly fitted) save lives; baby equipment must meet safety standards; bike helmets prevent concussions; latched gates keep kids away from swimming pools and accidental drowning. All good things.

Still, now and again I think about the thrill of climbing up that old rotting barn to eat pilfered apples with my best friend…and I wish our kids could have the same kind of adventures.

Just, you know, safely.




Our parents: A fairytale romance with a tragic ending

Dear Karen,

About 12 years ago, I became the High Priestess of Irving Family Artifacts.

Continue reading

And baby makes 3

Dear Karen,

How was your summer? Ours was pretty good, full of buzzing activity, great weather and long periods of sloth-like behaviour. Here’s a re-cap of some of the things we did this summer which were fun, interesting or meaningful:

Michael became a chef for 6 months. He invited us to his restaurant on the final night of his apprenticeship and we had the most delicious dinner. He learned a lot as a chef and it makes me very happy to know he can now handle himself in a kitchen. His future wife will be thrilled to know he can make a beautiful omelette, pour a decadent martini and can clear a table of dirty dishes, glasses and cutlery in less than a minute.


I love this photo, even if it’s slightly blurry. It’s my son as he really is, not posed or frozen in front of the camera.

I went to a rugby tournament, to support a very worthwhile charity, and I discovered that standing right beside the pitch, watching the players slam into each other, is a lot better than being on the pitch and seeing a 200 lb side of meat come charging at you, intent upon taking you down and murdelising you.


Marie Curie Rugby Tournament – look ma, no helmets, pads or protection of any kind!

A friend came to visit and after a scary morning visiting the London Dungeon, we treated ourselves to afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. I can’t show you the food we ate because you’d get jealous. Next time you come for a visit, though, we’re definitely going there.


Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason’s, Piccadilly.

Walking through Regent’s Park has been a treat all summer long. Last weekend, I saw a very elegant bird, balancing on an impossibly thin branch over the Boating Pond. He sat there, swaying in the light breeze. It looked so effortless and calm.


It’s a big, long bird, sitting on a bough. That’s as ornithological as I can get, I’m afraid.

I walked into the Conran shop in Marylebone and found this, the best scratching pad in the world. Ever.


Flashmaster DJ Kitty von Cattenhoff, scratching out some tunes.

In the run up to Rosh Hashana, my friend and I went to Harry Morgan’s in St John’s Wood and had a delicious, artery-hardening lunch. We ate everything on our plates, and finished our meal with chicken soup because there was still 1 cubic cm of spare space left in our stomachs.


Chopped liver, calves’ foot jelly and gefilte fish – exquisite! And this was just the 1st course.

Gillian is enjoying her work in Shoreditch and it’s so nice to have her stay with us. She’s great fun to have around, cleans out the dishwasher, pats the kittens and, when she’s not busy with all the exciting things in her life, doesn’t mind hanging out with us. I like that in a child.


I also like that Miss Piggy is her heroine and that her company holds the coolest parties ever.

I had the funniest Google+ Hangout with you; we tried out the various weird apps on the menu and I discovered you could change yourself into a a party-hatted hipster, a cat or a droopy-eared dog. I think I liked the dog best, probably because you wouldn’t let me take a photo of you in the other masks. Next time, just one pic of you as a cat, please? Thanks.


I can’t tell you how much I adore this photo, except to say, a lot.

We finally left the warmer temperatures and sunshine and, oh blessed relief, entered Autumn. I know lots of people love it, but Summer leaves me cold.


And suddenly, it’s Summer no more. Hallay-fricking-lu-ya.

This final photo was taken in 2007, with our eldest daughter. We were messing around on a walk and we decided it’d be really amusing to pretend she was pregnant. It all seemed funny at the time.


Is this what she’ll look like soon? We will have to re-stage this photo in a few months!

6 years later, though, I’m happy to report she’s pregnant for reals, and is due in early March. We’re over the moon and know this child is so lucky to have parents as loving as Kirsten and Aaron.

It’s been a very happy summer. Can’t wait for what next summer brings, but hopefully a lot of babysitting is on my agenda!



For the fathers in our lives, this vid’s for you

Dear Readers,

This week we dedicate our videos to the fathers out there.  We love Convos With My 2 Year Old, and present them here for your viewing pleasure.

This next one is from 1992 but still brings a little tear to the eye (sniff)

Happy Father’s Day to you all,

Karen and Wendy

Junk food in sheep’s clothing: Sweet treats disguised as healthy snacks

Dear Wendy,

A couple of weeks ago, while Rachel was home for reading week, we had occasion (well, several occasions actually) to go to Michaels craft store to pick up…okay, I forget all the stuff we bought there. It had to do with making her model of a dental clinic, and it was all critically important, not to mention expensive. That’s about all I can tell you for sure.

Okay, this isn’t going where I’d intended it to. Start again.

We were standing in line at Michaels. Ahead of us was a woman whose son, a smart-sounding kid, was rifling through the racks of sweet treats that are strategically placed next to the cash registers, to tempt shoppers to grab a little smackerel of something on their way through the cash.

Marketing 101: Put the tempting stuff at eye level. Promote impulse shopping.


Hey, it says “Healthy” right there on the sign.

Periodically the boy would turn, point at a package of candy, and ask his mother, “Can I have this?”

The mother, bless her, kept shaking her head. “Nope…nope….”

I know that gesture—I remember it well, from the days when our kids were little and seemingly insatiable for sweets. It’s frustrating to be trapped in a long line with a kid who’s hell-bent on nagging until his parent gives in and buys him one of those packages of yummy deliciousness.

It’s even more frustrating to know that the shops understand and exploit this dynamic, knowing that all but the toughest, most determined parents will cave eventually.

The moment came, and it didn’t surprise me.

“What about this one, Mum? It looks so good…”

The mother sighed. “Okay, all right. But where’s that bag of fruit jellies made?”

The son scrutinized the bag, obviously accustomed to answering these trick questions.

“Thailand,” he said.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want you eating that. You’re not putting that junk into your body.”

I applauded her inwardly. Too soon, as it turned out.

The son checked a few more bags, clearly looking for something more suitable. He held up another bag of fruit jellies.

“RealFruit Gummies.” The package was green, and festooned with badges that boasted of its nutritional cred: “Fat Free. Made with Real Fruits. No Artificial Colours or Flavours. Peanut Free.” Hey, that sounds healthy, right?


This bag contains about 4.7 servings, at 130 calories a pop. So…615 calories per bag, then.

This time, the mother nodded approval.

“And where’s that one made?” she asked, as though prompting him to perform just one final trick.

“Canada!” The boy grinned, triumphant.

“Okay, sure,” said the mother. Then she turned to Rachel and me, who were exchanging glances behind her. “I don’t let him eat that foreign-made junk—you never know what’s in it,” she confided. “But if it’s made in North America, that’s a different story. And it’s made from fruit juice, so it’s not really bad for him. I’m trying to teach him to make healthy choices.”

“Oh,” I said. But I wanted to say a lot more.

I wanted to ask her if she thought it was okay to feed her kid a “real fruit gummy” that contains 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving (and a serving is measured as 8 candies—how many people really stop at 8?). I wanted to point out that fruit juice isn’t a great nutritional choice either.

It’s not really my business how this mother raises her kids, but I really wanted to blurt out, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s made in Canada or Thailand or Timbuktu, junk food is junk food. And do you realize that every time you let a store browbeat you into buying that sugary crap for your child, you help create a lifelong habit of obesogenic eating?”

But I didn’t. Rachel and I paid for our purchases and left without saying anything. I still feel like that was the cowardly choice, even if it was the most socially acceptable one.

What does all this have to do with weight loss after 50?

Well, it’s about consumer education, and understanding how food manufacturers dupe us—even those of us who like to think we’re careful, mindful consumers—into thinking certain terrible nutrition choices are “guilt-free.” No matter what age we are, we’re susceptible to being duped.

I’m not saying no one should ever eat candy. Far from it—if I thought I could never again eat anything sweet and “bad for me,” I’d have given up my quest for healthy eating and personal fitness a long time ago.

But before we put anything into our mouths, we should bear in mind that sugar is sugar, candy is candy, and all the “real fruit juice” and “natural fruit sugars” in the world won’t turn that into a healthy choice. No matter where it’s made.



p.s. Just for comparison, take a gander at the nutrition facts for jujube candies…which are very much like RealFruit Gummies, in all but name:


Jujubes, gummies…it all boils down to the same thing.

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