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August 29, 2013

Owen will turn two in a couple months. Let me first dispense with the obligatory birthday clichés: I can’t believe he’s two already; he’s such a big boy now; where does the time go? Megan and I have started discussing what we’re going to do for our tot’s birthday. These ongoing discussions have been the subject of more debate between us than the details concerning our would-be basement.

We’ve spoken with some friends about what they’ve done for their children’s birthdays and have even asked what some of their friends have done as well. Apparently, kids parties have come a long way in the years since I was of that age.

Back in the day (I’m sounding old here), I was happy to have some of my chums by for pizza and cake. I grew up in an apartment, so a bunch school kids from the building would pop over and we’d spend the afternoon goofing around, playing video games, and generally carrying on like children. I’ve since learned that parents today have temporary play yards set up behind the house and rent ponies for their kids to ride around on.

Seeing as I don’t think Owen can even say pony, forking over hundreds of dollars for him to ride one seems excessive….

This past spring, Owen was invited to a Daycare friend’s second birthday party at an indoor play yard his parents had rented. Truth be told, it was great! Owen ran, hopped, skipped, bounced, and careened off of things for a couple hours and, by time it was over, didn’t want to leave. Sure, Owen, in his mania, jostled a few of the smaller kids, but we’ll call it a life lesson for them: don’t get close to rabid animals.

We were so taken with how happy the play yard made Owen that we wondered whether we shouldn’t rent it for his birthday. We grabbed a leaflet and, when we got home, looked into the prices. After speaking with friends, this joint was reasonable compared to some of its competitors. It would “only” cost hundreds of dollars to rent the facility for an hour and a half (more to tack on an extra half hour) AND it awarded us the privilege of supplying and serving our own food and drink.

All in, renting this joint, paying for lunch, and factoring in the cost of decorations and whatnot, would cost Megan and I well in excess of $500… for a two-year-old’s birthday party. A party he wouldn’t remember a few months later. A party none of his friends would remember either.

On its face, it seems ridiculous, but then we remind ourselves of how much he genuinely loved the play yard and we start the debate all over again. It’s almost like we’re looking for excuses to dote on the boy. We seem to conveniently forget how much he loves the park — and we can do that for free — and focus instead on reasons why we should cough up the money and throw him an extravagant party.

As a parent, there’s a definite sense of wanting to keep up, so to speak, with what the other kids are getting. Owen’s friend got a play yard, shouldn’t my son get one as well? I’m not sure if it’s guilt or some deep seated need to ensure Owen always has the best. Either way, the allure of forking over the cash to rent the play yard is ever-present. And so in lies the issue with these sorts of soirées. There’s a seeming wish by parents today to want to give their children everything; and, by “everything,” we mean “pay for expensive stuff,” because we think it’ll make them happy — even if that happiness is only fleeting. It’s as if our kids will have fuller, richer lives as adults if we lavish ridiculous things on them as children when, in reality, it’s likely quite the opposite.

I grew up in what today would be considered an “under privileged” environment. My home was in a poor, rough neighbourhood. Most of my friends were like me: we had what we needed, but little else. Rest assured, no one in my ‘hood got ponies or play yards on their birthdays. We had to make do. But you know what? They were still great birthdays. I, in particular, had some great parties. Some of my fondest memories as a kid are the little things my mom did for me to make my birthdays special.

I’ve long been a history buff — I still am; my dream vacation would be to tour the battlefields in the Falkand Islands. I’ve had a thing for military history, in particular, that dates to my early days when a friend and I would collect and play with those little plastic green army men. We’d set up our tanks and our machine guns and our bazookas and reenact World War II in our living rooms. So, for a birthday around the height of my army-playing days, my Mom, with nothing more than a cake mix, some chocolate Cadbury Buttons and a Flake bar, made me a cake shaped as a tank. It had a turret, the tracks, and the big gun. She even decorated it with a few of my little army guys.

It was awesome. All of my friends thought it was the coolest thing ever as well.

And that’s just it, my mom never had the means to drop silly amounts of money on my birthday parties, but I loved them just the same. She didn’t need to go over the top to make my birthday special. She knew the little things that made me happy (like tanks, as it were) and did her best to incorporate them into my party. Today’s parents would likely rent an actual tank, but that’s missing the point. Anyone can spend money; it’s understanding that the truly important, often little things, are what makes birthdays, or any special day, memorable.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves, it would have been interesting to see a pony amble through our two-bedroom apartment, but that’s water under the bridge now and not really the point.

Megan noted the other day that, were we to rent the play yard for Owen, it would mark a precedent for future parties… no doubt culminating in ponies, pirates, and other far flung things. At the very least, I’m thinking it better to keep Owen a little more grounded for as long as we can. Frankly, I assume he’ll one day become such a brat that we’ll have to toss him the odd bone or risk him becoming insufferable — mostly to shut him up, really. But that’s well down the road — like when he’s seven or three.

For now, Meg and I need to be realistic: we have basements to build; and we have basements we need to outfit with surround systems. And none of those things are cheap. It’s better that we mind our pennies and put them to use where they’ll give us the most bang.

At any rate, after all sorts of back-and-forth discussions, it appears we’ve come to a consensus: we’ll throw a modest hootenanny for the boy at home. We’ll have a small number of his closest toddler friends by (along with family) and we’ll serve pizza. Old school.

And my mom, Grandma, has agreed to bake an Elmo-shaped cake. She knows, after all, that her grandson loves Elmo.

I think he’ll like that. We’ll start saving for ponies and clowns later.

August 26, 2013

Owen is a big boy. Between his Infant and Toddler rooms, the lad’s always been among the biggest to strut his way through Daycare — it’s helped him become the loveable hoodlum that he is. My son was born two weeks early and weighed eight pounds, ten ounces. The doctor speculated that, had he waited a few more weeks to be born, Owen might have topped ten pounds (and not a day goes by that Megan isn’t thankful that having missed out on that). Through the first stages of his short life, Owen has hovered between the 75th and 90th percentile for height. He’s traditionally worn clothes designed for children a couple age sizes bigger than him. He’s not small.

And, with that being said, the boy’s gone through a bit of a recent growth spurt, further adding to his already considerable size. Overall, while I’m tall (I’m six foot), I have comparatively stubby legs (Megan’s legs are longer than mine; she stands 5’8). Despite his gangly height compared to other children, it seemed for a while that Owen too was destined to sport a similarly stubby lower frame. He outgrows shirts quite quickly, but those same-sized shoes and trousers are always far too long for him.

Then, as if on cue, he shot up and outgrew his pants and shoes.

This, naturally, meant the Wormald clan would need to make a trip to the mall to stock the boy with properly-fitting gear and apparel. Family trips to the mall are different than they once were. The idea that Owen would passively sit in a stroller and watch passers-by in reclined comfort seems like a distant memory now. Long-time readers, and those that have generally paid attention, know that “sitting still” is a four-letter word for my boy. Still, the notion of leisurely pushing Owen though a mall is a romantic fantasy that neither Megan nor I have completely given up on (we’re funny that way), so we always try to buckle the lad into his stroller and see how things shake out.

Visiting a mall with a toddler is like competing in a timed sporting event. You make your way from store to store, racking points for each purchase you make before the final buzzer sounds and your kid has its inevitable meltdown. Spend too much time in one store, wait too long in the food court, and you’ll need to finish the “game” in overtime, where all bets on the boy’s behavior are off.

This past trip started well enough. Owen allowed himself to be latched into the stroller and he sat still as we made our way through a department store. He amused himself by singing and humming the alphabet, much to the delight of the store’s employees. Owen hums better than he sings. Most of the letters, outside of ‘C’ and ‘G’ all sound like the same grunt. It was cute, though, and it offered quite the juxtaposition to the tranquil little boy that was soon to emerge later on.

After making our way through a couple kids clothing stores, we decided to hit a shoe store (the primary reason for our trip). The boy was holding up well. Once in the shop, Megan took note of the shoes she liked and tried to take my sensibilities into account when deciding which pairs the boy would try on. (Apparently I can be quite discerning about which shoes and clothes I like to see Owen in.) After tossing aside anything I found too frilly, and after further whittling the choices based on the price, we grabbed a couple pairs and waited for the sales rep to finish dealing with another family.

We typically like to keep Owen moving when he’s in the stroller. He gets antsy when he’s stuck in one place too long. One reason Megan and I often visit malls with the boy together is because it allows one of us to push the him from isle to isle, or even store to store, while the other looks around or stands in line to pay. Here, in a small shoe store, that was proving difficult, and he was getting restless.

A clerk brought us two pairs of shoes to try on. Owen quickly grew angry at the strange woman that was suddenly poking around his feet. He suddenly began thrashing about and tried kicking at the new shoes. The salesperson offered Owen stickers to try and calm him. The boy instead flailed at her and nearly knocked the stickers to the ground. Upset at our son’s misbehavior, Megan grabbed the boy's arm and tried to steady him as I took hold of the shoe. I tried to forcefully nestle it onto his foot. The sales woman smiled and left us to our own devices.

Owen thrashed about, kicking at my hands. The shoes were proving too tight to get on to his foot. I suggested that we try the second pair. Megan agreed and further suggested we free the boy from the stroller, hoping that it would be easier to get the shoes on him if he sat on our lap.

This would prove unfortunate. He barely lasted 20 minutes in the stroller before needing to be let loose — an unfortunate record for the boy.

We unlatched the boy and sat him on my lap. Owen, seemingly happier now that he was out of the stroller, allowed us to put the second shoe on without a struggle. As soon as we tightened the Velcro latch, however, he lurched forward and hit the ground running. He was off. I shook my head as I watched my son, wearing only one shoe, run laps around the store. The other patrons smiled as he squealed his delight at finally being freed. In a weird and unfortunate twist of fate, the sales person was unable to find the corresponding second shoe to go with the one he was doing wind sprints in. So, for all the time we spent there, and for all the attempts we made at fitting the boy with shoes, we would have to leave empty handed and start the process again somewhere else. I lassoed Owen and retrieved the shoe he was wearing. After putting his older pair back on, we made our way back to the mall — only this time, Owen was the pushing the stroller rather than sitting in it.

After nearly crashing the stroller into a handful of different people, we ambled into a sporting goods store, hoping to find the boy a pair of runners. A quick search of the children’s section and I spied a pair I liked. The store was packed and it was understaffed. I waited for someone to fetch me the correct size while Megan did her best to keep the boy’s nose out of trouble. The store, while busy, was also a lot bigger than the last one. It allowed Owen far more space to run, to bump into things, and to fall down in.

He loved it. He darted between families trying on hockey equipment. He skipped around children trying on shoes. He burst through a crowd looking at ski equipment. He never stopped. He was constant motion.

After finally asking an employee for the specific shoes I wanted, an older shopper turned to me and asked how old Owen was. She smiled and recounted the times, years earlier, when she used to take her daughters shopping. She smiled at Owen as he ran past. No longer humming the alphabet as he was before, he was now screaming, “Uhhhhhhhh!” I sighed and the woman I was speaking with admitted that caring for an energetic little boy was no doubt far different than it was when she reared her angelic little girls. She smiled and told me she admired his “enthusiasm.” I was too tired to even try and decipher what she meant by that. The woman went on to tell me that seeing Owen made her nostalgic and that she couldn’t wait for grandchildren. I looked over my shoulder and saw Owen standing in front of a long, wall-mounted mirror, just down the aisle from me. I looked over my other shoulder and saw Megan, though winded from chasing the boy through the store, sprinting towards him.

I looked back at the boy and saw him violently yanking at the edges of the mirror. He shook at it mercilessly, and was nearly able to pull it completely clear from the wall by the time Megan got to him. She scolded Owen and tried to insist upon him how badly hurt he could have been had the mirror fallen on him. Owen laughed and was off again in the opposite direction.

I turned to the woman I’d just been speaking to. “Did your daughters ever do that?”

She looked at me with a blank stare, “No. No they didn’t.” She then walked away.

The salesperson finally brought a pair of shoes for Owen to try on. Megan put the boy in a bear hug and I struggled to get one of the runners onto his foot. He curled his toes and made things as difficult as possible. I got his toes into the shoe when the boy again began thrashing about. Megan was strong enough to hold him, but not strong enough to keep him still. He clubbed at my arms as I got the first shoe on and he tried throwing himself to the ground as I reached for the second. Meg took the shoe and I tried holding him instead.

The results were no different. Megan chastised Owen and his misbehavior as I sat cross-legged on the floor, in the middle of an aisle, in a large sporting goods store. I was holding on to Owen with all my might. Meg redoubled her efforts to slip his foot into the second shoe. It took all our tenacity, and all our guile to get two shoes onto our toddler’s feet.

In all the baby classes we took prior to the boy’s birth, not one of them dealt with visiting malls. Should the day come where I find myself teaching such a class, the majority of my lessons will deal with how to physically grapple your kid. And, frankly, if that woman was so damned nostalgic about shopping with kids, I’d have been more than willing to let her help me wrestle Owen into some semblance of submission.

By the end, Megan had dropped to a knee and I was nearly flat on ground before Owen had both shoes on his feet. I relaxed my grip and about a dozen people watched as he sprinted to the hockey department. All I could hear as the boy ran from view was and the pitter patter of shiny new runners clattering past shiny new goalie pads.

Exhausted, I looked at Megan, who was by now completely out of breath herself. “I think the shoes are on sale.”

August 21, 2013

One of the most pressing questions I’ve been struggling with recently has nothing to do with raising my son, my marriage, or my job at work. It’s hardly spiritual, and it’s certainly not political. Nevertheless, it’s consumed much of my waking thoughts and is never far from the mind.

Should I finish my basement myself?

I blogged about this a few weeks back. At that time, the decision was shaping to be a bare-knuckle brawl between my laziness and my cheapness. I must admit, were I to lay odds, I’d have bet on my laziness taking the day. I suspect it’s genetic, but somewhere in the deepest recesses of my being is an over-active “do-it-later” gene that controls much of my actions (or, inactions, I suppose). Since my earliest days I’ve held firm to the belief, “Why do it now when I can do it later?” This core tenet of my personality is in stark contrast to my wife’s firmly-engrained, “We need to make a list and plan for every contingency, RIGHT NOW!” It turns out that opposites must attract as we’ve had quite the impact on one another: I slow her down a smidge, and she gets me into gear a little quicker. Of course, her get-up-and-go spirit often has little effect on me when I’m firmly planted on the couch, so I win that struggle more than I lose. At any rate, my fully-acknowledged laziness could be an impediment to finishing the basement myself.

I should also note that I’m really not that cheap. I’m quite good at spending money, especially on electronics and other manly-toys (y’know, things with lights, and junk that makes sounds and does stuff; should I pass away, I want my eulogy to be held at a Future Shop or a BestBuy). But, when you’re talking basements, you’re also talking about an awful lot of money. So, barring either of us finding reams of cash in the couch, any savings to be had by doing some or most of the construction myself could be pumped directly into the acquisition of more man-toys. (Or, as my wife points out, pumped into Owen’s education fund, or our RRSPs… She’s so cute.)

Anyway, after consulting with my wife and exploring all the pros and cons, and after imbibing far-too much alcohol, I (we) finally made a decision: I will do the basement myself!

Professionals, be damned! [Cue applause.] If ancient Romans could build aqueducts, the Colosseum and, well, Rome, then so can I — but in basement form, instead!

Step One: Committing to getting off my butt and doing it. CHECK!

Prior to moving in, our developer gave us a map of each floor of the house. I fished it out and scanned the layout of the basement. After printing a bunch of copies, Megan and I each plotted our respective vision of how we wanted the basement to one day look. I was curious to see how similar our plans would be. I’ve longed for the basement to be a wondrous place — a Man-Land, filled with big-screen TVs, the latest in surround sound technology, comfy couches, fully-stocked fridges, and all the accoutrements one might need for escaping the awful outside world. (For the record, yes, I dream in Technicolor.)

My wife is far more practical and, as I passed her maps of the basement to fill out, I had visions (nightmares) of a frilly sitting room with a quiet space for the boy to do his homework. I imagined how it would sport insufficient wall space for anything but the tiniest TV. It would have things with doilies on them. It would have a spot for potpourri.


To my surprise, our designs were strikingly similar. Meg included an extra closet, and I made my hobby room slightly bigger than she did, but they were otherwise nearly exact. We’re going to have to measure out things exactly before we set our plans into proverbial stone, but the back and forth arguments about where to put things, and what would or wouldn’t be needed, just such didn’t happen.

Step Two: Come up with a layout. CHECK!

While there are a good number of steps that are still standing in the way of our finished basement (not the least of which is actually constructing it), things are clearly rolling. The next steps may well prove the hardest to overcome, however. I’m going to assume for the moment that I’m not going to wake up early one morning in a cold sweet, wondering if I’m not insane for taking on such a project — I’m led to believe you can’t just switch off a gene, particularly one as all-powerful as the one that motivates (demotivates?) me to sit on my butt. So, barring such a turn, I need to (1) figure out if I need permits and, soon after, I’m going to have to (2) clear the junk from the basement.

Issue 1: I’ve come across a good number of people that insist finishing our basement will NOT require permits. I can offer just as many that will swear, just as vehemently, that I WILL need permits. Both argue with a level of certainly and sophistication that paints them as knowing what they’re talking about. Seeing as I haven’t a clue, I visited The Vaughan’s website for answers. Surprisingly, it actually lists a set of conditions under which you need permits.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I believe myself to be a fairly bright guy. I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m far from a complete idiot. I have a university English degree, a college post-graduate diploma in Book and Magazine publishing, and I currently work in the book publishing industry. I have an affinity for the English language, and I am well-versed with the written word.

So, after reading (and re-reading) the conditions listed on the site, I can sincerely say that I have absolutely no clue whether The Vaughan requires permits. None whatsoever.

It was written in dense, legal jargon that, depending on which word you stress, you could easily envision it to say, “Yes, you idiot, you need a permit,” and “No, you dummy, you don’t need a permit.” I’m now resigned to calling the city and asking them directly about whether I need one. I can already hear the person taking the call telling me, “Silly citizen, it’s all on our website. You can find the answers to all your questions there.”

“Uh, yeah, about that. I visited your site, but I don’t understand what it said. Can you explain it me, please?”

The thought of giving The Vaughan such satisfaction irritates me.

Issue 2: We have a lot of, how shall I describe it, “stuff” sitting in the basement. Some of it is Owen’s older clothes, toys, and things that are generally no longer of use to him. There’s also some furniture down there that will eventually make its way back into the finished basement. We’ll see if any of Owen’s things can be given away or sold, and the furniture will be temporarily stored in other parts of the house during construction.

Those are straightforward. The rest of it down there — the majority of it, really — should likely be burned or sent to landfill. I doubt a charity worth its salt would take any of it. I just can’t see a charitable organization sending one of its truck over to pick up a Sony Walkman from the early ‘90s. Someone suggested a yard sale, but there’s no way I want people I don’t know associating me with some of that junk. Maybe I should try pawning it off on friends. Unlike strangers, they already have fully-developed opinions of me, and I can’t imagine any of this stuff would impact their unrequited love and affection for me. Barring that, we’ve to get rid of countless heavy boxes that are filled with things no one likely wants. Disposing of this will come into direct conflict with my finely-honed lazy gene. Meg can make all the lists and schedules she wants, but lugging this stuff to the curb is going to be a gruesome undertaking.

Sadly, no one said my idyllic Man-Land would be easy.