Time is a funny thing. It races by when you want it to slow down and it drags when you want it to speed up. I find that the older I get the faster time seems to go. My tiny little miracle baby is now 5! I'm not sure how that large chunk of time came and went so quickly. My time with my children is limited, I know this. I also know that I need to make the most of it, not just for their memories, but for my own. I also know that life as we know it can change in the blink of an eye, it's fragile. We make these big bold plans and spend hours making plans for how our life should unfold with our five year plans, and what is it really for? What is the point in planning for the future, when the now is without spark or fun?
Right now Christopher and I are trying to make the most of our lives. We have no retirement (I sure hope that one of the kids takes us in). We don't have fancy things (as anyone who has ever visited my house can attest to). What we do have is a lot of fun, and amazing memories. We are trying to plan mini getaways every few months. It doesn't have to be extravagant, or expensive. What it does need to be is fun. It needs to be something that the kids and ourselves will all enjoy.
It has been at least six years since we last went to the Toronto Santa Claus Parade. We watch it religiously on the television, but it always seems like such an ordeal to get there. This year we took the bull by the horns and decided that we would take the kids. Elly has never seen a Toronto Santa Claus Parade live, and the twins were just tiny the last time we went. We decided that this was the year, and we made plans for it months ago. We kept it a secret from the kids.
Saturday morning we secretly packed the car. I phoned Christopher's cell phone, and we pretended that Christopher had been called into work. He told the kids that he had to go into Toronto to get a certificate. He could really have gotten an acting award, I was impressed! "Well, I'm headed to Toronto for work" he told me with a straight face, within earshot of the kids. "Oh, that stinks, I had wanted to go into Belleville as a family today", I told him with an equally straight face, within earshot of the kids. "Hey, are you just getting documents?" I asked. "Yes". "Hey do you want some company? Maybe the kids and I could tag along?" This was met with groans of "Do we have to come?" Christopher suggested that maybe we could go and look at the Christmas windows at the Bay. He had them in the palm of his hand. We tossed them all into the car, a blanket in the back hatch covering the suitcases.
The kids were very excited when we drove up to the hotel in Yorkville. Their little faces were just glowing with excitement. We ordered pizza in the room. Christopher and my goal was to see how inexpensive we could make this trip. I had done some research to find out what was going on in Toronto on that week-end and was free. http://www.bloor-yorkville.com/holiday_magic/ One of the events that I found was the Bloor-Yorkville Holiday Magic lighting ceremony. There was a free concert by Canadian recording artist Sarah Slean.
After our pizza we got dressed and went to the Bloor-Yorkville Holiday Magic lighting ceremony. It was only a few blocks from our hotel and the unseasonably warm weather was glorious. We walked taking in the sights of the tall skyscrapers, and the beautifully decorated picture windows along the way. When we got there, the concert had already started. The local school choir was singing. Although none of those children were mine, I still loved their beautiful little voices. You could hear the pride as they sang their little hearts out. Then there was Sarah Slean. What an amazing talented performer. She sounds a little like Kate Bush, my favourite singer. I stood there in the crowd listening to that glorious music. Christopher had Elly up on his shoulders. I looked at my two big girls in front of me. They had taken a break from their usual bickering and had their arms wrapped around each other. I feel like I have over used the word "beautiful", but that is the only word that I can think to use. I stood there completely in the moment, tears glistening in my eyes, taking in every single minute detail of that moment so that I could put it into my memory.
We stood with strangers listening to the music. We were with strangers, and yet it felt like we were in a community. That is not something that you often feel when you are in Toronto, and yet we felt like that. The crowd oohed and ahhhhhed when they had the official lighting of the trees. They shone brightly, lighting up the warm night. I loved the looks of awe on my children's faces. This was magic. This whole night was magic.
After our concert we headed onto the subway to the Dundas Street station. The crowds were monstrous. The subway was so crowded that there was not even space to hold on. The kids used us as their support. Rowan had his face buried into my jacket, his arms wrapped tightly around me. The girls circled their Dad, using his strength. It sounds overwhelming, but honestly it was such an adventure. The kids got to experience the city. The city is not always slow and easily paced, it is smelly and crowded and exciting! We got off at our stop, holding tightly to the children. We walked into the Eatons Centre.
The lights inside were bright and sparkling. There were impossibly huge reindeer made of lights. Everything was larger than life, just like Toronto. The kid's little faces were alight with amazement. My not so little face was alight with amazement. I love Toronto. I love Toronto and I want my children to see the beauty of it. It is such an amazing city full of people all every ethnicity, every size, shape and colour. You can visit the world, in just a few city blocks. The larger than life buildings, the unlimited possibilities that it presents.
After we had walked through the dazzling Eaton's Centre, we walked over to see the Hudson Bay windows. They were stunning, like something out of a movie. We all gasped at the detail in every single bit of them. The kids all pointed delightedly at something that they just loved. We walked window to window, pouring over all of it, taking in every little detail.
It took me back to my own childhood memories of this city. I remember being small, and holding my parent's hands looking into the big windows. Back then all of the downtown windows were animated. The smell of roasting chestnuts surrounded us. I still expect to smell roasting chestnuts when I look at today's Hudson's Bay windows. If I close my eyes I can still picture it. I see those bright windows with the seemingly magic dolls. I can picture the man standing just a few feet from the windows with his little red and silver cart full of chestnuts. I still smell it, still hold it as a beautiful childhood memory. I want that memory for the kids, well maybe not the smell part, because the city smelled a lot like sewer when we were there.
After we had seen the Hudson's Bay windows we cautiously made our way across the road to Younge and Dundas Square. The square itself was one big knot of people. These country folk decided to stay a respectable distance from the human block. The Younge BIA had sponsored a free outdoor entertainment extravaganza, Illuminite. There were a dizzying amount of stages set up around the square, each with a different performer. Atop one of the buildings were these amazing drummers that reminded the big kids of the Blue Man Group. There were performers akin to Cirque Du Soleil, they were amazing. We stood with our backs to the Sears windows at The Eaton's Centre and watched the amazing magic. Sitting still and unobtrusive was this enormous white balloon. We were soon to discover that it was not "just" a huge balloon, but rather a hot air balloon that was used for one of the performers acts. She gracefully did these amazing twists and turns all the while even with the tall building. We stood spell bound.
When the show had ended we debated getting back on the subway. It would be faster and we had already tired kids. It would also be packed. We would in essence be human sardines. We decided to go against good instinct and walk to our hotel. Toronto is Canada's largest city, and yet the downtown core is so walkable. I find that there really isn't anywhere that you cannot walk to in Toronto.
It was not a short walk, nor was it a complaint free walk, but it was beautiful weather, and Bay Street (the street we chose to walk) was very quiet. We walked taking in the sights, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. There was just enough nip to feel like winter, but not enough to feel like WINTER. We walked and walked. The kids all complaining about how their legs hurt, they were tired, like a bunch of cranky old men. Oh they complained, but every now and then they would stop, their attention caught by some piece of beauty, something alien. We live in a beautiful part of Ontario, of Canada. All around us is fresh clean country air (sometimes that country air is not so fresh when the farmers are spreading manure). I would not choose to live anywhere else, and yet... and yet I love to visit the city. It is the opposite of the quiet beauty that normally surrounds us. I want my kids to experience that excitement, that difference.
We stopped along the way back to the hotel at a Tim Hortons. It was overdue time to rest our tired feet, take a break. Christopher sat with the kids while I went up to order coffees and hot chocolates. I noticed a neat little treat in their display case, Toronto Maple Leaf doughnuts. How could I resist. Christopher and Rowan are die hard Blackhawks fans, but our Gabe's blood ran blue. I think in part it was to bug his dad, and in part it was to show his independence. Whatever the reason was, Gabe loved the Toronto Maple Leafs. I ordered each of the kids a Leaf's doughnut. Somehow it felt like we were including Gabe in our big adventure, like just a little part of him was there with us. We did our usual when we encounter something that Gabe would have loved. The kids lifted their doughnuts up to the sky and said "This one's for you Gabe!"
Even after all of that adventure we still made it back to the hotel before 10:00 p.m. We all sank into the extra fluffy, comfy beds. Everyone was tired physically, but mentally everyone was jacked up. We had seen so much. The kids all excitedly shouted out their favourite parts of the evening. I lay back, my feet still aching, but a serene smile on my face. This is what life is all about, adventure. The adventure that was for the most part cash free, but rich with joy and memory.
I had a tough time convincing the kids to sleep that night (as a matter of fact I fell asleep before they did). Their senses were on overload. They had seen so many amazing and wonderful things. They also knew that the next day we would be walking up the street to see the Toronto Santa Claus Parade.