And You Should See the Bugs on the Car’s Front Grill

Today we went to Queen’s Park, as you do when you have small children and it is eleventy million degrees hot outside. The trees make it cool and then of course there is the water park. Nutritious AND refreshing to toddlers the world over. Of course, there is also a treat stand.

“Mommy!” said Trombone, “Look, the ICE CREAM is open!”
“Oh I would like some ice cream,” said Fresco.
“No, no ice cream today,” I said.
They wept bitterly.
“But why?” Trombone wailed, “we had lots of ice cream on our vacation!”
“I want our vacation!” said Fresco.

It is strange to be back, to have been gone so long, to have had such a different experience than I expected. It was not all bad or all good; it was 40% bad and 50% good and 10% ice cream.


While knowing that one cannot plan something one has never done before, I still planned a lot. I booked campsites in advance (that I later canceled) and I packed garlic (that we never used) and I took extra trinket bags so I could put together more trinket bags for the drive home (HA HA HA – here, kids, fetch this pamphlet from the visitor centre and like it).

I could not plan, re: camping:

– the kids have no idea how to sleep in a tent. All they wanted to do was run around it, head butt each other and escape.
– the sun doesn’t set till 10 but it rises at 5. That is not enough sleep for anyone.
– there are no black tents to block out the sun. Dastardly sun.

We did our first two nights of camping (Sweaty and Buggy as I have affectionately named them) in BC and Alberta and then spent a night in Kindersley, SK, home of the place that has the thing with the – I don’t know. I don’t know anything about Kindersley except the Wal-Mart parking lot was the size of North Burnaby and the Humpty’s restaurant thoroughly charmed our children. Mostly because they have only been in one other restaurant, ever, and it was Denny’s.

The fourth night we spent in Saskatoon, at the home of Sarah, Michael, Rowan (6), Lilah (4.5), Audra (1 week now, but was at the time still fetal), Pat-The-Mum (age undisclosed) and Terry (ditto). They have a beautiful house that includes air conditioning.

We put our boys in the bedroom with their girls, hoping they’d just, you know, go to sleep. It went like this:

Lilah, age 4.5, who enjoys any excuse to not sleep: Mummy, he wants his mommy!
Trombone (crying): Everyone is crying!
Rowan, age 6, who could sleep through a nuclear war: I am trying to sleep. It is too loud.
Sarah, very pregnant: I wish I could drink.
Me: I am drinking!
Michael: Me too!
SA: Me too!

The boys slept in the living room, the girls slept in their room, I slept under a piano with my head wedged up my own ass, because Trombone is a mat-hog, and we all woke up overjoyed and looking for coffee, which was thankfully in good supply.

Then SA and the kids drove on to Regina where they stayed at a Holiday Inn Express that featured a BACON BUFFET – damnit! – while I stayed in Saskatoon for a couple of days, without my own kids and talking to grown ups. OK, I guess that’s worth trading for the bacon buffet.

And! I got to take a Greyhound bus across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, all by myself. The Greyhound bus was awesome. I could nap, read, write, snack, look out the window, all without explaining myself to anyone or sharing my snacks. I ate a very good BLT in Dauphin, Manitoba.

We spent a week in Brandon, seeing the sights and eating our weights in treats from (Aunt) Anna’s Indulgence Dessert Bar in The Town Centre Mall, get your ass there and eat some desserts, people. Your ass isn’t going to grow all by itself, you know.

Then we left for home, with a revised itinerary to account for the facts we had gleaned from our trip there, namely:

– we could not drive more than 450 kms per day without dire consequences (ie: trinkets from former trinket bags tossed at driver’s head by unruly 2.5 year old)
– it was pissing rain and stormy in our second and third nights’ planned accommodation (Dinosaur Provincial Park)
– we had already tossed our first tent due to creeping mould due to improper storage after the thunderstorm on our second night of camping (top tip: AIR OUT YOUR WET TENT BEFORE STORING IN HOT TRUNK FOR ONE WEEK [IDIOTS])
– we were not especially interested in proving how hardcore we were after 2 weeks on the road with children who were by then
– – well out of their routine and nowhere near anything resembling civilized
– – completely uninterested in playing “I Spy,” “count the cows” or “name the wheat field” (cretins!)
– – growing rapidly uninterested in our meagre collection of DVDs, aiieeee! When the DVDs run out, we are SCREWED!

…so instead of insisting on camping and making a hard trip even harder, we returned our replacement (as yet unused) tent for a full refund and did The Armpit Motel Tour of Western Canada: Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, Drumheller, Canmore and Enderby.

Things to remember about long car trips with children under 5:

1. Don’t do it.

2. Camping is good, but motels have clock radios and the children will be just as excited about the clock radios. Mostly, what they are excited about is getting out of the hot car, so make that happen as soon as possible, toss in a pool and you’re golden.

3. Kids love routine. We had no routine. The routine we tried building for them was wrong, terrible and wholeheartedly rejected. Without routine, they start to unravel. They weep, trip, pinch and bite. They cling, whine, scowl. We start to want to leave them by the side of the road with their Where’s Waldo books for shade.

3 a. Riding for hours in a car every day does not count as a routine.

4. The kids will love chicken fingers the first time they eat them. They will be transfixed by the chicken fingers. The restaurant was making them crazy with love. The second time? Maybe they eat half the plate and then start angling for dessert. The third time? They are done with restaurants, chicken fingers and YOU.

Chicken fingers = heroin? Maybe.

Seriously, by the time we ordered our final meal of chicken fingers in a restaurant (that would be Saturday, in Merritt, OH MY GOD Bonus Tip: never go to Merritt if you can help it) the kids were like, yeah, whatever, chicken fingers, here, I’m sucking ketchup out of the container, that’s how much I care about chicken fingers.

And you, the parent? You the parent are saying, I give up, suck the ketchup if you must, as long as you just SHUT IT for five minutes so I can enjoy my sub-par pasta dish and the Lager that the waitress brought me when I asked for a dark beer.

You want salt in your hand from the salt shaker? OK. Here’s salt in your hand from the salt shaker.

5. This is not ideal. This is Wartime Parenting. You can sort out the rules and worry about the bad habits when you get home.

We had some fun. We saw dinosaurs (Drumheller) and a giant turtle statue (Boissevain, MB) and real frogs (International Peace Gardens) and we saw family and friends and ate delicious food and my father in law fed me copious amounts of gin and we swam in lots of pools and played in lots of playgrounds including one in Zealandia, SK that had equipment from the ’80s and the boys were enraptured by Guitar Hero and their Uncle playing it LIKE A ROCK STAR and despite the Very Hungry Mosquitoes, I don’t appear to have contracted West Nile Virus – so far – and we went 5,000 kilometres without a flat tire (although we did run over a small, blue cooler on our first day of driving and we thought that was the end right there) (and we also got snarled in traffic 30 minutes from home because of a highway-side brushfire [dispose of your cigarettes, people!]) or calling each other names (much) and we took 500 pictures and several videos and laughed some, at least a little every day, even if some of it was tinged with hysteria.


All day on Saturday, on our way home from Enderby, Fresco would cry,
“I want to go to our new motel!”
and Trombone, ever the helpful big brother, would say,
“We’re not going to a motel! We’re going home!”
and Fresco would cry and wail louder.
“But I want to go to our pool!”

I guess that’s an endorsement?

My recommendation: wait till the kids are older. But really, you could do a lot worse than we did. And there is always ice cream.

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