Category Archives: Kids


When browsing a blog site today, I clicked on an article and read the comments. At the bottom was a comment form with a captcha, which looked like:


This seemed odd, since I happen to have a son named Nicholas. Of course it would have been a little more appropriate for my wife, but still…

So many levels

I’m making spaghetti squash for dinner. I cut the squash open and find that it smells like pumpkin inside, which is not surprising since they are from the same squash family. Ryan happens to be there, so I mention this fact to him. He takes a whiff and agrees that it smells like pumpkin. Ryan happens to be the biggest pumpkin pie fanatic on the planet, so I suggest “Hey, maybe I should make a spaghetti squash pie for dessert? Whaddaya think?” His response, after a couple of seconds of thought:

“That is freaky on so many levels.”

Sushi IS for dummies?

We were in a bookstore yesterday, when I saw a book in the ubiquitous “… for Dummies” series called “Sushi for Dummies”. Ryan saw it and said that a friend of his liked sushi. I asked “You know who else likes sushi?”, expecting him to say “who?”, at which point I’d say “me”, but his response made me laugh:

“Dummies, I suppose.”

Ship it now, test it later

There’s a question on StackOverflow entitled “What real life bad habits has programming given you?”, which is quite hilarious for programmers. Answers include things like thinking 256 is a nice round number, wanting to use Ctrl-F on an actual book, or starting to count items at 0 and ending up with one less than everyone else.

This may seem unrelated, but bear with me. Shortly after Ryan was first born, I decided that children, particularly babies, were badly designed:

  • babies need to eat, but don’t know how right away, and frequently spit up what they’ve already eaten or refuse to eat. It takes years before a child can even make himself a bowl of cereal.
  • babies need to sleep, but getting them to go to sleep (or stay asleep) can be challenging. When Ryan was a baby, he wouldn’t go to sleep by himself; we had to walk with him until he fell asleep in our arms and then gently put him in his crib. If he wasn’t sufficiently asleep (read: unconscious), he’d wake up and you’d have to start all over. Sometimes we’d have to walk with him for 45 minutes before we could go back to sleep ourselves.
  • babies can’t roll over for a few months after they’re born, can’t crawl until six months, and can’t walk for the better part of a year. Baby deer are walking within minutes of birth.
  • children are self-centred. They have tantrums when things don’t go the way they want, even if the circumstances are beyond anyone’s control, or if getting their way would inconvenience or even hurt others. Older kids have been known to give their parents attitude (and I’m one of the lucky parents whose children have reached that stage), and teenagers sometimes take “attitude” to a whole new level.
  • some babies in the animal kingdom are on their own from the moment they are born. Others are under the care of their parents for a few years. Human children frequently live with their parents for twenty years (sometimes more), or about 25% of the average human lifespan.

Despite these challenges, parents continue to love and nurture their children, so obviously parents are generally better designed than children. However, children turn into parents without having been “re-designed”, so it occurs to me that the real problem is not with design, which means it must be implementation. Obviously babies are born before they’re really ready — before all the bugs have been worked out, before things have been streamlined and optimized.

The real problem is that babies are shipped while still in early beta.

Games people play

I read an article on BoingBoing today called “The case against Candy Land“. The author writes (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) about how video games are far more educational for kids than some classic board games like Candy Land, where whether you win or lose depends entirely on the random arrangement of the cards, and not on any skill on the part of the player. If I play chess with my six-year-old, I can almost guarantee that I will beat him every time, because I have some skill at the game — very limited skill, admittedly, but more than him, which is all that matters. If we play Candy Land, however, he is just as likely to win as I am, since no skill is necessary. You don’t even have to know how to count. In particular, there are no decisions to be made.

I have noticed this with my kids’ games as they get older. The older the kids at which the game is targetted, the more decisions they need to make to be good at the game. As a kid, my sister and I played a card game called “war”. You shuffled the deck, then dealt out half the deck to each player. Each player turned over a card and whoever had the higher card won both cards. When you run out of cards, you take the cards you’ve won, shuffle them up, and keep going. If you both put down the same card, that’s a war. Each player deals out three cards face down, then turns one over, and the same rules apply. First one out of cards loses. It didn’t take long before I got completely bored with this game because even as a kid I realized that nothing I did mattered. There were no decisions to be made. Other than the speed at which I could deal the cards out or turn them over, there was no “getting good” at war. Candy Land is the same, as is snakes and ladders.

A game like Sorry or Trouble, or a similar game we like called Aggravation, also involves counting, but some decision-making as well. When you roll a one, do you bring out a new piece, or move an existing piece one space? If you have more than one piece out, which one do you move on any given turn? If you have the chance to either take someone out (“Sorry!”) or move one of your pieces into your safe area, which do you do? I really noticed the difference when playing snakes and ladders one day with Gail and Nicky. The phone rang and Gail went to answer it, asking me to play for her. I did and after three or four turns, she returned. It had never really occurred to me before, but that’s when I realized that the outcome of the game was going to be exactly the same whether I played her pieces or she did.

Ryan is starting to figure this out. There are some games, like snakes and ladders, that he used to like but doesn’t like so much anymore. I’m sure if I asked him, he couldn’t say specifically why; he’d just say that it’s a game for younger kids and he wants to play older kids games. I’m sure that the real reason is that he realizes at some level that what he does has no effect on the outcome of the game. When playing snakes and ladders once, I told Ryan that I could write a computer program to play this game and it would be just as good as any human player. I think he was impressed by that, but someday he’ll realize that it’s really not that impressive. It’s not that I can do it because I’m a great programmer — I couldn’t write a similar program for Monopoly, for example — but because it’s purely an algorithm with no decisions. Pick a random number from 1 to 6, move that many squares, go up a ladder if you’re at the bottom and down a snake if you’re at the top, and repeat until you get to the top.

As you get older, you get into games where more decisions are necessary, from Uno to checkers to Monopoly to backgammon to the game where all you do is make decisions, chess. In fact if you get to a point in a chess game where you don’t have a decision to make about what to do, you may be in check and are very likely in deep trouble.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that games such as Candy Land serve no purpose. They teach things like playing nicely with others, taking turns, and how to win and lose graciously. But if you’re over the age of 6 and looking for a challenging game, Candy Land may not be the one for you.


An actual conversation at our house tonight:

Nicky: Ryan, what’s the money you have to bring to Cubs called?
Ryan: Dues.
Nicky: You don’t have to go get dues today. Here.
Ryan: Where’d you get it?
Nicky: From my piggy bank. It’s my only toonie.
Ryan: That’s OK, Nick, you keep it. I’ll get one from my piggy bank.

Concert review: Robert Munsch

We went to see Robert Munsch last night in Hamilton. We saw him a year or two ago in Kitchener as well, and we all really enjoyed it, so when we heard he was coming to Hamilton, we grabbed some tickets. Gail is away this weekend so she had to miss it, but I took the boys who are both big Munsch fans. We have a bunch of his books, and the boys regularly bring home others from the school library.

I didn’t know until yesterday (before the show) that Munsch had a stroke back in August which left him unable to form sentences. Luckily, he’s recovered enough that he is still able to perform, though he did have a couple of pauses during the show where he seemed to forget the next part of the story he was telling. But he’s quite animated and a bit eccentric on stage anyway, so if I hasn’t known about the stroke beforehand, I don’t think I would really have noticed.

According to the article on the stroke, he’s touring in support of his latest book “Just One Goal”, but he didn’t perform that one last night. Munsch frequently invites kids from the audience up onto the stage, but they frequently just sit while he tells the story. During the Paper Bag Princess, one of Gail’s favourites and a highlight of the show, he had people from the audience perform it with him — he’d read the lines and had the “characters” repeat them. He had a young girl playing the part of Princess Elizabeth, an even younger boy as Prince Ronald, and a father (he said he needed “an ugly father”) playing the dragon. He also performed I Have To Go!, Love You Forever (which I am completely unable to read without choking up), Mortimer (which everyone loves to sing along with), We Share Everything!, Stephanie’s Ponytail, Something Good, Thomas’ Snowsuit, Up Up Down, and a bunch of others that I hadn’t heard before. He talked for about an hour and ten minutes so it wasn’t a long show, but you can’t expect young kids to sit much longer than that. The tickets were $18, which is quite reasonable in this era of $75-for-the-cheap-seats concert tickets.

If you’ve never seen Robert Munsch perform live and you have young kids, I recommend taking in a show. By “young kids”, I mean pre-teenager. I’m sure there are teens who would enjoy it as well, but it’s more aimed at the younger crowd. My boys are 9 and 6 and they both loved it.

And that’s the end of that story.

Smart, or just lucky?

A woman in New York City gave her 9-year-old son a subway pass, $20 and some quarters and left him in Bloomingdale’s, telling him to get home by himself. He made it home fine, and the woman says that this will teach him much more independence than keeping him on a leash for his whole childhood. (Note that the kid had been begging her to do this; it’s not like she just sprung this on the kid one day.) I cannot imagine leaving Ryan (who’s eight) alone downtown to fend for himself.

Part of me agrees with her. She’s certainly got guts, not to mention confidence in her child, and in the long run this independence is a very good thing for her kid. The other part of me is thinking “If I throw a butcher knife in the air with my eyes closed and happen to catch it by the handle, does the fact that I didn’t get hurt mean that it was a good idea?”

Now, this woman lives in Manhattan, so her kids have grown up in the city. If we lived in downtown Toronto, walking around downtown would be less of a big deal. And New York has an extensive public transit system, with which the kid is probably very familiar. My kids have never been on the TTC, and have only been on GO trains a couple of times, and there are no busses in Waterdown at all. So we’re not really comparing apples to apples here — if my kids had grown up living in Manhattan, perhaps I might have a different feeling.

Ryan will be nine in the fall. His school is about a 20 minute walk from our house, but he does not walk to school. Now part of that is convenience — Nicky is too young (five) to let him walk, so we have to drive to the school anyway. But even if that weren’t the case, there is the obvious fear of abduction, although Waterdown is a quiet little bedroom community and such a thing has never happened here (to my knowledge). I don’t think he’d get lost, and I don’t think he’d wander off somewhere instead of going to school. (Nicholas is different story there — he wouldn’t care if he ever made it to school.) There’s one major street he’d have to cross, but there are lights, a crosswalk, and a crossing guard there. I was walking to school by myself when I was his age, in fact when I was a year or two younger than he is now, although my walk was a little shorter than his. (Though strangely, I have no memory of walking with my younger sister. I wonder how she got to school?)

But am I paranoid and overprotective, or just cautious? I don’t know the answer.

The Scare

Gail and I had probably the worst scare of our parenting lives yesterday. We went to the Ontario Science Centre with Gail’s mom, Carol. The kids love it, and right now there’s a special exhibition on the Titanic which only goes until early January, so we wanted to see it while we had the chance. The exhibition was really interesting — there are lots of pictures and stories as well as actual artifacts from the Titanic itself; everything from third class toilets to pieces of the engines to dinnerware and pots from the kitchen, even passenger’s items like eyeglasses and jewellery. Anyway, the Science Centre is in a valley, and one of the things I remember from going there as a kid are the long escalators that take you from the main entrance down into the valley where the exhibits are.

After buying our tickets, we got to the first escalator. I got on first, then Gail and Nicholas, then Ryan and Carol. Part of the way down, I heard Gail asking Nicky to stop doing something. I did’t know what he was doing, and I don’t really remember what happened next, but the next thing I remember is turning around and seeing Gail kneeling in front of Nicky and pulling on his leg. He had been dragging his boot along the side of the escalator and it had become lodged between the escalator stair and the side. Ryan yelled “Stop the elevator!” and then Gail also started yelling for the escalator to be stopped. By this point, we were about 3/4 of the way down, and I ran on ahead to the bottom and started frantically looking for the emergency stop button.

My parents once told me that when I was a kid and they took my sister and I to the mall, they were surprised at the fact that every time we were there, the escalators were not working. They started to get suspicious, so one time they watched me and sure enough, as soon as we got near the escalator, I’d run over and press the button. You’d think that after my extensive training, I’d be able to find and press the button in no time flat. Not this time. I found the button easily enough, but it had a little plastic cover over it — probably to make it more difficult for kids like me to press it for fun. I tried to lift it, but found that I couldn’t get my fingers underneath it. I tried every angle I could to get the cover to lift, but I couldn’t move it. There was another man standing next to me by this point, and he didn’t know how to open it either. Finally, when the escalator stairs were no more than a foot or two from starting to collapse at the end, the man next to me hit the button assembly hard with the heel of his hand. Not only did this stop the escalator, thankfully, but it also pushed the entire button assembly in and down a little, so there will need to be some repairs done on it. Once the escalator stopped, Gail was finally able to yank Nicky’s foot out of his boot and she carried him off the escalator, both of them in tears. Carol was holding on to Ryan, who was also crying, and once I knew that Nicholas was not injured, I tried to pull the remains of the boot free of the escalator. Even before I got to it, the boot was damaged beyond repair. It took me over a minute to get it dislodged, and I had to rip it in half to get it out.

Within a minute, two or three Science Centre employees appeared out of nowhere. One seemed to be a nurse or EMT or something, and immediately examined Nicky’s foot. There were no cuts or scrapes and he said it didn’t hurt, and he could move it around. She decided that he was fine, though she said he might have some bruising or swelling later. Another employee had a cold pack, so we put that on his foot for a while. We realized then that he couldn’t wear his boots for the rest of the day, since one of them was in piceces, so we took the liners out and he just wore those. At the end of the day, I had to piggyback him to the van.

I wandered back over to the escalator to see if I could determine how the button was supposed to open. It turned out there was a red spot next to the button, with a little message saying “Push HERE to open cover”. I didn’t see this when trying to open it the first time. I don’t know whether this was my mistake or if it was a usability problem with the escalator design. I have a feeling it’s the former, but I don’t know if this is because of my feelings of guilt over the fact that someone else (who I never even got to thank) was able to stop the escalator to save my son when I couldn’t.

The rest of the day proceeded without incident, though Ryan was much quieter than normal (and had trouble falling asleep last night). This whole thing affected Ryan even more than Nicholas. I think it’ll be a long time before he agrees to go near an escalator again (we took elevators the rest of the day at the Science Centre). A couple of times later in the day, Nicholas was very quiet and almost seemed introspective, and I’d ask him if anything was wrong, and he would just say “I’m bad”. We tried to convince him that he was not a bad kid, that it was an accident. At the same time, we tried to gently let him know that he did do something dangerous, and that this is why we always tell them not to goof around on escalators. There hasn’t been any pain in his foot, but he has been complaining about his waist hurting; Gail thinks she might have elbowed him pretty good while trying to pull him free. Gail also has a nasty scrape on her leg that she thinks she got when she dropped to try to pull Nicky free. She, of course, has no memory of this; she was trying to save her child and was running on adrenaline so she wouldn’t have felt any pain if she’d been shot with a .44 Magnum.

To the Science Centre employees who helped, other people who stopped to ask if we were all right, and especially to the man who managed to stop the escalator, thank you.