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July 2016

Adventure

Tour-onto

We are in Canada for a few days.

We were not sure what to do here.

So we made a list.

Everyone got to pick something.

Henry wanted to ride a “train.” He had been watching streetcars rumble by from our third floor window.

Lizzie wanted to go swimming.

Katie wanted pizza.

I considered their typical kiddo ideas and thought maybe someone should choose something, anything, unique to this particular city. I scoured a web page of family-friendly sights and learned Toronto has a zoo, an aquarium, some nice beaches, and a tower. Since we have just moved away from Southern California, we recently experienced a zoo, aquarium, and beaches out there; that left us with the tower. So after breakfast—which we ate nearly at lunch time, since we had spent so much time making our list—we ambled over to the base of the CN Tower. Standing beneath it, the thing was impressive. Really. It dwarfs the surrounding buildings and high-fives the sky with its awesomeness. We were excited.

Except we probably should have ridden this wave of excitement somewhere else.

There was a 15-minute line to buy tickets. Which was nothing compared to what we were told would be a 2-hour wait to board the elevator. The kids nearly fell to pieces when they heard the words two and hours in the same sentence with the word wait. And really, they were the reasonable ones. I, on the other hand, was the nut job, the out-of-touch parent who intended to press on. To wait is good for children, I told myself. It teaches them attributes once celebrated in 1950s movies. Patience. Gentleness. And that thing about good things coming to those who. We would have a nice conversation. Maybe share a snack. Read all the interesting photo captions about the years 1973-1975, when the strong Canadian people constructed this tall tower to the sky.

And man, we made an effort. We looked at black and white photos of concrete being poured. We examined small models of the CN tower, which, while interesting, had nothing on the actual tower we had seen while walking in. We read about lightning, and how the whole place is grounded with copper wire. And all of that took about 17 minutes. Then Lizzie wanted me to hold her. Henry was hungry. And Katie wanted to blame me repeatedly for getting us into this stupid, touristy mess. But the more they complained, they more I dug in.

In high school, I had a driving instructor who talked to us about one-way streets. “One day, you may accidentally drive down a one-way street. Cars will head toward you. You will wonder what is happening. When you discover that you are driving the wrong way,” he said, “at that point, YOU SHOULD STOP AND TURN AROUND.” This wisdom seemed simple enough. If you realize you are heading in the incorrect direction, don’t keep going that same way. Then, one day, I did indeed find myself on a one-way street. It took at bit before I realized it. But when I did, I just kept on driving. It never occurred to me until afterwards that I should have stopped and turned around.

The same thing felt true yesterday. At any point, in the, say, 97 minutes before we reached the base of that elevator, I could have redirected us. I could have called it. I could have said, “Um, yeah, let’s go ride a train, swim, and order a pizza.” So what if those things weren’t very Toronto-y? Instead, we got in a line of people and the more the kids whined and complained, the more I insisted we stay there.

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Eventually, we made it up. And it was okay. Lizzie learned to take a panoramic picture with my phone. Katie studied the outline of lake Ontario. Henry counted skyscrapers. All three of them enjoyed a few minutes standing on the glass floor hundreds of feet in the air. But then we waited in line for the restaurant. And the bathroom. And the elevator to get back down.

Hundreds of (Canadian) dollars and nearly five hours later, we wandered through an outdoor exhibit at the Toronto Railway Museum on the way back to our hotel. The kids climbed in a caboose, sat in the cupola, and pretended they were railroad workers on the ladders and berths. They were curious and clambering and happy, and all ten minutes of it was free. This was how we should have experienced Toronto. Briefly, almost accidentally, and on the cheap.

I have made this same mistake before with our kids, dragging them into and across quintessential city sights. In San Francisco, I insisted that they walk with me down Lombard Street, and blocked out their voices when they complained along the Golden Gate Bridge. In Los Angeles, they were too hot at the Griffith Observatory and underwhelmed by the Hollywood sign. In New York City, they loathed Central Park. I have never had the opportunity to bring them overseas, but I envision my children equal parts bored and angry from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. I can just see myself shushing them in front of the Mona Lisa and dragging their tired feet along Venetian canals. As their mother, I feel this is my job. To introduce them to the great cities and wonders of the world, to plant the seeds, and assume that worldliness will sink in years later. Even though these sightseeing expeditions are a misery.

But after this week, I have begun to think differently. Love for a place can take many forms, and wonder is just as likely to flourish in an ordinary neighborhood as it is from atop the most celebrated sight. I learned to love London in its parks and theaters. My fondness for Paris was born in an afternoon of chocolate croissants and shopping for shoes. And Athens came alive to me in the music I heard in the taverns once the sun went down.

Today, because Henry wanted to, we hopped on a streetcar just to see where it would take us. We had no agenda, no sightseeing itinerary, no plan. We rode until we saw an interesting line of restaurants. We hopped off and ate pastries and ice cream, ambled along a cool row of eclectic shops. And when the first child started to complain, we hopped back on the streetcar and rode it back to the hotel to swim. Afterwards, we ordered pizza. And our love for this city was born.

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Adventure

Findings: Days 6-14

 

For the first few days of our cross-country trip, I was on a roll. We drove, ate candy, argued about the iPad, and just when we thought we could not stand one more moment traveling together, we arrived somewhere magical.

After that, the kids fell asleep and I wrote about it.

Then I fell asleep and we started all over the next day.

It was a pretty great routine, but like most charmed journeys, this one was unsustainable.

Somewhere around day 5 ½, instead of writing at night, I ate half a bag of Cheetos and went to bed. While this is not a dietary practice I can recommend, succumbing to semi-slothful behavior after several weeks of packing boxes, lugging furniture, and saying goodbyes . . . well, that’s something to which I can give my full stamp of approval. To everything there is a season — a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to pack, a time to move, a time to write cathartically about friendships and farewells, and a time to process all of that with junk food and sleep.

Thus, while I had hoped to amass two weeks of pithy truths and inspiring stories of my family triumphing in the face of roadside adversity, what follows, instead, are the briefest of highlights — some awesome, most ordinary — from the rest of our trip across America:

–We swam beneath a small waterfall. I fell into a muddy creek carrying our only towels. Ken and I argued about crossing other people’s rivers.

–Lizzie, Katie, and Henry rode horses. Ken and I did not.

–I grew tired of carrying Henry one morning, and accidentally set him down in a pile of red ants. The hundred or so crawling up and down his legs bit him/stung him (note to self: look up what it is ants do) at least a dozen times before I realized my mistake and swatted them off. Poor boy had legs like chicken pox. He could only be consoled with watermelon.

–When it comes to catching them, kids love fish. When it comes to eating them, not so much.

–There are good people living in San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. (There are good people living lots of other places, too. We just didn’t go there.) Without exception, even when we had to battle traffic, weather, or adjust our itinerary to make it work, visits with old friends were a delight. If you do nothing else today, look at a map, and scheme a trip to see a faraway friend. You won’t be disappointed.

–I am a mustard snob. I get a little judgy when restaurants only have yellow mustard and not stadium or Dijon.

–I had a grown-up, mostly civil, in-search-of-common-ground conversation with a gun owner and we parted, I believe, understanding one another better. I was reminded to seek out those with whom I disagree. How else will we change the world?

–Lizzie led a horse to water and it did, indeed, drink.

–When we waved goodbye to Texas, a scorpion scrambled beside our car and waved back.

–The closest I came to crashing in 3000+ miles of driving occurred an hour from our destination when the car in front of me slammed on his brakes because someone was weed-whacking fifty feet away. Prior to this, I had never considered gardeners a threat.

–We had Dairy Queen for dinner two days in a row. The food was not good. But I loved it both times.

–I have not been flossing.

For the many folks who have asked, we are safely in Ohio now. Staying with family and living out of suitcases while we search for a new home. Thanks for blanketing the road before us with warm thoughts. We are excited about this new chapter, and looking forward to the big things to come.

More on that next time . . .

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