A friend of mine, a dad who works on Bay Street, is all about blowing his kids’ minds. He took his daughter to London last year to see a One Direction show; in the fall, he brought his son with him to do some humanitarian work in Africa. And why not? His time with his children is limited by the demands of his job, so he engages in a parenting strategy that trades quantity for quality. He focuses on experiences that provide intense and lasting memories for the family.
I’ve been working a lot lately myself. Plus there’s the approaching early-March deadline of my baby’s birth and some attendant anxiety about how the arrival of kid number three will affect my relationship with numbers one and two. So I’ve been trying out my friend’s strategy, planning concentrated, individual time with the kids rather than the chaotic group outings more typical of my family. It helps that, with the kids at five and seven now, we’re able to do things I find fun, too.
One recent Saturday, I arranged for Penny to spend the day at her mom’s while I took Myron up to Mount St. Louis Moonstone for a full day in the park. On the hour-long ride up the 400, he read to me from a Hardy Boys adventure. Once we arrived, we discovered that 10 centimetres of fresh snow covered the ski hill, providing a cushion for all sorts of interesting jumps and stunts. Myron landed his longest rail yet. I made a 360 off a kicker. Heading home, my thoughts backed by the soundtrack of my exhausted son’s snores, I wondered why I hadn’t pushed for solo time earlier. Somewhere during our day together, the years separating us dissolved and we became just a couple of guys, a pair of friends out on an adventure. It was exactly the sort of experience I would have wished for myself, ages before I ever became a parent.
It’s different with Penny: She’s younger, but also, she’s a girl. That sounds sexist. Of course it’s sexist. But I can’t chalk up the difference to anything else. In temperament, she’s my carbon copy—hell, she’s even left-handed like me. And she indulges me in the soccer games and snowboarding sessions that I want to do with her. But what she loves are activities like singing and dancing, drawing and painting—worthy pursuits, certainly, but maybe not my ideal afternoon.
Except this quality time wasn’t about me. So a few weeks ago, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra sent out an invitation for members of the media and their kids to attend a weekday rehearsal of Once Upon a Time (the latest edition of the Young People’s Concerts), I arranged for myself, Pen, and one of her friends to go.
We ended up as three of approximately a dozen people serenaded by the whole of the TSO. Onstage, the dancers of the Pickle Shoes Dance Company rehearsed their accompaniment, then pulled the girls onstage to participate in the performance. My daughter’s friend donned a kimono and shower cap. Pen hopped into a bathtub and experienced a mock-scrubdown from the two dancers. Afterward, I took the girls for flaming cheese at Pen’s favourite restaurant, Penelope, where we debated how much practice was required to master some of the dancers’ more impressive moves.
When I kissed Pen goodnight later that evening, she thanked me for “our date.” I thanked her, too. The afternoon didn’t shrink that distance between parent and child, like my day with Myron did. Instead, I understood the benefit of the difference between us. Right at the beginning of the afternoon, when I picked her up from school, she’d taken my hand and skipped her way to the car. At that moment, I could see the great esteem in which she holds me. With my son, our similarities made me his friend. With my daughter, our differences made me her hero.