Four-toy restaurant ratings

We eat at the types of places we never, ever (e-vah!) pictured ourselves dining at. You can too! Here’s my handy guide.We were at Rainforest Café a couple nights ago. Having a kid will do that to you. As The Little Nutball took in her surroundings – animatronic safari animals, twinkling stars, leafy canopy, aquariums, gift shop – I told her we’d first gone there when she was a toddler and that when the animals suddenly became animated, she’d screamed and cried, as had all the other toddlers there as part of the maternity-leave-moms afternoon crowd. I was there with a girlfriend, and she’d said, “I never thought I’d be eating here.”

But ate we did. We were stuffing our faces because we never had time to eat elsewhere and we were so happy to not have to shush our kids. The room was a cacophany of crying babies and toddlers. The very things that were designed to lure us in were terrifying the kids, although we knew eventually they’d turn into the equivalent of crack for our future preschoolers.

I’m all on-board with bringing kids to nicer restaurants – after all, they should develop a taste for fine dining if their parents are foodies to begin with, although obviously there’s a learning curve for moms, dads and kids to navigate together, preferably without driving the non-breeders crazy. (Start at the casual restaurants and at home, and then work your way up to fancier restaurants during the lunch rush, then have an early dinner under 90 minutes long when you eventually hit the fancy-pants establishment.) But on the other hand, sometimes you have to just cave and give in to what your kids want. After a grueling 2.5 hours in the mall looking for kids’ shoes, say. (Brown’s, by the way, which is normally one of my fave shoe stores for the whole family, currently has a nicely curated selection of stripper shoes for young girls. Who buys this sh*t???)

So, in recent years, I have become a connoisseur of chain casual family dining establishments. Here’s my guide to the ones you’re most likely to find in your community (and I hope you will post your own, in the aims of furthering our knowledge of Restaurants We Never Thought We’d Dine At)

RAINFOREST CAFE
COST: Pricey for what it is. Entrees can run to $24, which is what you might pay at a nice restaurant with good-quality ingredients
VIBE: A world where rainforest, ocean and plastic cohabitate in harmony
PROS: Loud animatronic animals mean no one can hear your kid have a tantrum
CONS: Food insulting to your intelligence. A cream-sauce pasta called “Rasta Pasta”? Why?
GO THERE WHEN: You’re at a mall and want a clean bathroom, some peace and quiet from your kid so you can just stuff your face and veg out. Or you’re going whole hog on a kid-driven night of fun on their terms.

EAST SIDE MARIOS
COST: Moderate.
VIBE: Much like the Paramount theme park in Orlando, they do a good job of creating a very stereotypical and idealized notion of a particular cultural context. I think the design of this was driven by watching movies like Goodfellas and A Bronx Tale, and channeling that cinematic image of New York’s borough neighbourhoods. I’m actually transfixed whenever I go to East Side Marios and the level of detail they’ve gone to in creating this notion of a sort of 1970s Italian-American neighbourhood film-set, complete with obscure tomato sauce cans and fake hanging laundry. I’d have to say it’s my favourite of the bunch, and no, I never thought I’d be saying that out loud.
PROS: Warm bread arrives with tiny wooden cutting board allowing your child to play with knives while you’re sipping some wine yet close enough to prevent actual digit-loss.
CONS: Realizing you could have driven into Toronto to go to Terroni, which is also kid-friendly and which actually has amazing real Italian food.
GO THERE WHEN: They want pizza, you want pasta, everyone wants artery-clogging garlic bread that they’d never make at home lest it drop oil and butter all over the oven

BOSTON PIZZA:
COST: Moderate.
VIBE: Is it just me, or is there a NASCAR feel to the space?
PROS: Onsite arcade, pool tables mean you can spend time alone with your mate if your kids are old enough to head over on their own.
CONS: Your alone-time is in a crazy, loud, flashing-light, NASCAR pizza establishment
GO THERE WHEN: You’re really desperate to talk and you need to keep the kids preoccupied. “Honey, I think our marriage may be over… But first, let’s order wine while the kids play video games.”

MANDARIN:
COST: Moderate to slightly high on weekends when I think it’s like $23 pp or something
VIBE: Giant buffet-style heart-attack funhouse with vaguely Chinese inflection
PROS: After you force your child to eat some cherry tomatoes, cucumber and exactly one broccoli “tree” you can let them loose to be masters of their own dinner selections, which is fun for them and a load off for you.
CONS: “I feel sick for two days afterwards,” says my partner. Mind you, I don’t have this problem myself. But then I’m not the one who has one Chinese-takeout style meal, and then goes back to hit the Western buffet for roast beef and potatoes.
GO THERE WHEN: Garlic-y corn syrup meets meat is just what you need. Vague moment of Zen tranquility via entrance fish pond, is also desired.

About Author:

Yuki Hayashi, mother of a five-year-old daughter, AKA The Little Nutball, writes from home and admits her household lacks routine. If you’re feeling a bit scattered as a parent, you’ll find comfort in her Momedy blog.

Middle-School Life Crisis

I wonder what an astrological or biorhythm expert would say about me this week. It’s been such an emotional week.

Regular readers of this space will know that at the beginning of the school year I was filled with doubts about whether I was sending my oldest child, Daddy Junior, age 12, to the right “middle school” (grades 7 and 8).

There was an “alternative” school I liked for him, very small and community minded. But he wanted to go to the big “regular” school all his friends were going to.

I liked the alternative school, thought it suited him better. But he was adamant about the other. I had to weigh what I thought was best for him against what he really wanted, which was really tough, but in the end, going a little bit against my better judgement, I let him go to the one he wanted to. I realized he would probably hate me if I unilaterally forced him to do something he didn’t want to do.

So we sent him to the big school. And many of you were kind enough to weigh in when I was agonizing over it and say: “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.” And also to express your compassion and sympathy for what I found to be an extremely difficult decision I agonized over.

But you know what? I think we made a mistake, I think we did do the wrong thing, so, agonizing as THIS also is, we’re pulling him from the school he’s in and putting him in the one I liked for him originally.

I still think the universe is unfolding as it should. I think Nick had to see for himself why going to the bigger school was a mistake, had to make the mistake for himself – or let’s not say mistake, let’s say, as they do in the corporate world “not the right fit”- so he could go to the other, smaller school with a happy heart, and not with a heart seething with anger and resentment at a tyrannical father who was forcing him to go to a school he didn’t want to go to.

And he is going with a happy heart. There are things he will miss, as he has told me. He’s made friends, he’s on the volleyball team, he likes his teachers, and his best friend goes there.

But he’s also being terrorized by a bully, and in general is finding this school not as home-like a place as he would like. The principal got mad at him and gave him a detention for trying to get his pencil sharpened. His Media Studies teacher informed his whole class that they’re ALL getting C-minuses because they’re “too loud,” which is crazy.

My son the straight-A and A-plus student, also a very quiet and soft-spoken person, does not deserve such rough, blanket treatment.

Also he said this bully – a kid who claims to be “rich” and says he doesn’t care if he gets suspended, his parents just laugh and give him money and sending him shopping for $200 jeans- beat up a kid in the library with two teachers watching and they did nothing!

Also, he told one of his teachers he was being bullied, pushed to the ground and called names and so forth- and the teacher did nothing.

Finally, I talked to a teacher who talked to the guidance counselor who said she could do “something” about the bully.

But I don’t know, Ms. Daddy and I have come to the conclusion it’s too little, too late, and rather than fight these problems we’ll just say it’s the school’s problem and take Daddy Jr. elsewhere.

But it’s not a decision that’s been without tears, second thoughts, recriminations, squabbles amongst ourselves (I got in terrible trouble from Ms. Daddy for voicing second thoughts about the decision within earshot of Daddy Jr., who is already stressed out enough about the whole thing and wondering if it’s the right move- and she’s probably right:, he needs his parents to be sure and present a united front).

But I think it is, though. I think he’ll be happy in the end. And I’ll be happy to see this week, and this decision, recede into the past.

Author by David Eddie

One Point by The Editor:

A switch of schools can help. I am a teacher and I can assure you that in both the public, separate and independent school system, the issue of bullying is wide spread and handled differently from school community to school community and from administrator to administrator. Martial arts can give a child self discipline and confidence but bullying is not just a matter of “self defense”, it is a complex issue. A great book that covers the topic honestly and whole heartedly is by Barbara Coloroso. She looks at the bully and the bullied. She also notes that most kids who are bullied (and this is not news to anyone) are being bullied by their parents, siblings or others and therefore these kids want to exert power and control on somebody else. My own kids are not into karate or contact sports. That being said, I have made sure I have equipped them with emotional and social intelligence (check out Gottman’s books on these topics) and to stand up to a bully. It is easier said than done no matter how self assured a child is. Our world is made up of bystanders. Look at adults. We witness humiliation, destruction, violence directly and indirectly in our day to day lives and few of us have the courage to take the steps to speak up about a fellow colleague who is being harassed or advocate for the stranger lying in the next bed to our family member who is receiving less than adequate nursing/medical care or the other injustices of life that we walk right by on.
Some school communities have parents who buy there way out of trouble. Their kid gets into trouble and it’s kept hush hush. Other schools have strict behavior codes and enforce them. In other communities people have their hands tied. Depending on the demographics and mosaic of the community, everybody errs on the political correct side to avoid human rights issues. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes guts whether one has a kid of their own, is being bullied as a child or an adult to speak up. My philosophy is keep asking questions and doing what you need to do for your kid until your kid is happy. Sometimes it means drastic measures and other times, it means a more subtle approach. It takes more courage to stand on one’s own and alone than in a group of others. If a parent and child is not happy with an outcome with a bullying situation, do what you need to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Do what is right for your unique situation and child. Check out both books. Great resources!

Kids Walking to School

A new University of Montreal study suggests only about 30 percent of kids walk or bike to school.

Now, I say “suggests” because they taught me in journalism school to say that. A study can never “show” or “prove” anything, my bloggies, because it only looks at a small sample of the population.

Particularly true in this case. It only looked at about 1500 kids, and in only two communities, both of which are in Quebec: Montreal, and Trois Rivieres. So you should take the results of the study with a bit of a grain of salt. Maybe it just so happens there isn’t a big culture of walking in those two communities– or maybe they did the study in the dead of winter. I’ve never been to Trois Rivieres in the winter (I sort of passed through in the summer a couple of years ago, on the way to P.E.I.), but walking around Montreal on a frigid, windblown, sub-zero day in Montreal is like having your face grated off with an ice-cold cheese grater, I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy, let alone my own child.

So you have to take the results of this study with a bit of a grain of salt.

Still, it’s a worrisome notion– on the surface. A 1971 study suggested 80 percent of Canadian children aged 7 and 8 walk to school.

Now it’s more like 30 percent, and of those 80 percent travel less than 600 kilometers.

And, last study I quote, walking to school is good for you: another study Mack was reading about indicated kids who walked to school were generally more active throughout the day.

Why are kids walking less? Dr. Paul Lewis, leader of the team of researchers who conducted the study, says, very confidently: “The decrease in walking and bicycling in Western societies is the consequence of a general trend towards sedentary lifestyles. This decline is explained by urban sprawl, greater distance to travel to more activities and modern schedules featuring tighter time-management.”

He says parents surveyed travel by car and do not set a good example for their children. “Even when the school is 300 meters away, some parents drive their children because it is on their way or they are leaving at the same time,” stresses Dr. Lewis. “Parents fear for their children’s safety in high urbanized environments. Safety takes precedence over health.”

Uh…yeah. Sounds about right to me. And blah blah blah according to Dr. Lewis our new sedentary lifestyles lead to obesity and etc etc.

The shocked tones in which Dr. Lewis makes the statement “Safety takes precedence over health” makes Mack wonder if he is actually a parent himself– and if not, and even if he is, he should probably just stick to reporting his findings and keep his proboscis out of the interpretation jar.

I mean, what’s all this “do not set a good example” stuff. Dollars to doughnuts dr. Lewis isn’t a parent himself, or if he is he’s got maybe one kid.

Dr. Lewis: Mack can tell you what’s going on. In 1971 kids 7 and 8 walked to school by themselves. Now parents have to incorporate them into their busy schedules, because they don’t want them grabbed by a pedophile and chopped up and found in little pieces in garbage bags around the city.

So, yes, “safety takes precedence over health,” Dr. Lewis. And before ye judge us, Dr. Lewis, those of us who, like Mack Daddy (and my kids all walk to school, so I’m not saying this out of reflexive self-defense, it is literally a disinterested use of words) have not one not two but three kids, drive a mile in our SUVs.

We don’t have cushy university jobs where we can show up at eleven and head home at three and get every summer and every whole seventh year off (my dad was a prof, so don’t even try to front, Dr. Summersoff) aka “sabbatical”– my Dad had so much time on his hands he didn’t even know what to do with all his time: he collected cars, he made home-made wine, he was all over the place– but the rest of us, Her Professor go flying out of the house in the morning, and it’s not only school it’s hockey games, guitar lessons, swimming lessons, volleyball practice– I could go on, but the point is maybe you should drive a mile in our SUVs before you presume to judge us on our habits and “sedentary” lives and the bad example we set for our kids.

Now, Dr. Lewis, if you have numerous kids and are very busy going to conferences and so on (even then I’m not sure I buy it, though: my father was always going to conferences, esp. in Europe, and came back assuring us all how busy and productive it had all been: young Mack wondered, though, how busy it had all been when Mack’s Daddy tried to write a book on the beers of Europe, based on the expertise he had accumulated during all these conferences), I beg your pardon and please accept Mack’s sincerest apologies.

If not, just stick to the facts, hotshot. Especially if you have no kids at all. Mack hates it when people with no kids presume to judge. Both Mack and Ms. Daddy are ashamed of the times we used to debate how Ms. Daddy’s sister could do things better back when she had kids and we didn’t.

What did we know? Nothing. Nothing at all. No one who doesn’t have kids should ever comment on parenting.

About Author:

Writer David Eddie works at home and spends much of his time looking after his three boys. He’s no minivan-driving kind of parent, though. David Eddie is Mack Daddy.

Safety Tips for Your Next All-Inclusive Vacation

It was probably the funniest storyline in last year’s Sex and the City movie when uptight Charlotte, after spending an entire week in Mexico eating only pudding cups from home and drinking bottled water, let her guard down in the shower and accidentally took a big ‘ol gulp of the local water. Needless to say she spent the rest of the holiday dealing with a mean case of Traveler’s Diarrhea, much to her girlfriends’ amusement. Dr. Aw, a Toronto-based travel doctor, says there’s definitely a lesson to be learned from Charlotte’s crappy experience. So before soaking up the sun at an all-inclusive this winter, you definitely need to soak up this valuable information.

Dr. Aw says 98% of Canadians who travel to Mexico or the Caribbean make some sort of mistake when it comes to the food or water within their first three days of vacation. And it could land them with a dangerous food or water-bourne illness like Hep A, Traveler’s Diarrhea or Typhoid Fever. “They drink from the tap, brush their teeth from the tap, eat poorly cooked food, undercooked meat, raw fish, eat salads from poorly prepared water, eat from street vendors, go for milk that’s been sitting out for a while,” he says.

Although it’s sometimes hard to grasp how to put one foot in front of the other after six margaritas, there are some key things you should try your best to remember. When it comes to food on the resort, Dr. Aw suggests grabbing fruit that you have to peel yourself from the breakfast buffet, because it could otherwise be contaminated by surrounding water. Sticking to foods that are piping hot is also a safer bet and when it comes to satellite food stations, beware of condiments that may have been sitting out for long periods under heat lamps. Avoid street vendors at all costs. “When you go off the resort, you’re in the land of the unknown,” he says.

As far as drinks are concerned, bottled water is a must, even when it comes to brushing your teeth. If you’re concerned about the ice, ask a third party tour operator (they usually run the orientaion meeting) where the water for the resort is treated. Mix drinks should be okay since the alcohol detoxifies everything and wine and beer are also safe, says Dr. Aw. (Insert collective sigh of relief here.)

Here’s a breakdown of the potential illnesses and the vaccinations that will help protect you.

Hep A: There’s a 20 day incubation period and patients will often experience fever, weight loss, jaundice among other things. Over the age of 49, the mortality rate is 2.7%. The vaccine is Vivaxim and is a combined shot for Hep A and Typhoid Fever. You can get the single dose shot the day you leave if necessary. You should get the booster in another six months which will protect you from Hep A for 20 years. The Typhoid Fever component lasts for three years.

Traveler’s Diarrhea: You’ll notice the symptoms right away and could risk spending your entire vacation on the toilet. Vaccine for this is Dukoral and is taken in drink form, two doses a week apart, at least two weeks before you go. It protects against E. coli and is safe for children two and older as well as breastfeeding moms. The vaccine is good for three months and if you travel again within five years, you only need a single dose. If you’ve run out of time for your this vaccine, Dr. Aw suggests bringing along some Imodium and electrolyte-rich drinks just in case!

Typhoid Fever: This is a lower-risk illness in the Caribbean and is mainly seen in rural areas. There’s an even longer incubation period for Typhoid Fever and patients experience fever, abdominal pain and constipation. The Vivaxim vaccine is for both Hep A and Typhoid Fever.

Author by Jackie Burns

 

Mom’s Weekend Getaway

You can go on a trip, but you can’t leave your family behind

“Hey, I could buy this for Arborio Rice,” said my friend, “Deny-la,” who shall remain unnamed as she’s “hiding” her very visible pregnancy from her colleagues for another month. (Arborio is the nickname her husband gave their once-rice-sized baby-to-be.) “The whole point of Montessori is the baby gets to decide what it wants to do and you have child-sized versions of everything, only not in patronizing materials like plastic or melamine,” she explains. “Everything is in regular adult materials. This pan is perfect!”

Me (knowingly): “Dude, that’s a cast-iron fry pan and it’s going to crush your kid’s foot if it falls on it.”

We were at Dean & Deluca in Soho, away on a girlfriend’s getaway, aka, mental health weekend. And yet, entire capsules of the weekend ended up devoted to long-distance parenting.

Me: “Here’s one mini cast iron fry pan for me, one for Ernie, and this weird little novelty mini mini one for The Little Nutball. I’m going to be sautéeing up a storm! Did you know iron leaches from cast-iron pans into your food? Cooking from scratch on a cast iron frying pan is like taking an iron supplement!”

Deny-la: “I don’t think I want any plastic in my home at all.”

Me: “Sh*t. We have to find a CB2. The Little Nuball was flipping through Domino magazine and saw some butterfly plates she wanted me to buy. They’re melamine, but they’re just going to hold crackers and other dry stuff anyway.”

“Deny-la” at Pearl River Mart: “Here’s a book on mah-jong, I should get this so Arborio can learn how and then play with my grandmother!”

Me, at the New Museum for Contemporary Art, looking at a strangely lulling digital video projection by artist Paul Chan, of weird illustrated fruit floating away in ghostlike fashion from a fruit bowl: “If I could get that piece and project it on her wall, I’ll bet the Little Nutball would sleep in her own room.”

Deny-la: “We should get the license and market those things to Bugaboo parents.”

Us, at Ippudo NY, a great new artisanal ramen restaurant with a clubby vibe: “Wow, that little guy looks pretty happy. Clearly a three-year-old can enjoy Japanese noodles at 11 pm on a Saturday night.” “Yeah, but someone will start ragging on the parents soon enough, I’m sure.” “This broth is so awesome.” “They must simmer it all day long. Did you see the noodle master in that little white room cranking out the ramen noodles on that press? It’s like this hermetically sealed time-out room.”

Clearly, you can run, or fly, far away for a weekend away, but even if you’re not wiping a nose or wiping a bum, it’s hard to turn the switch off.

I promised my editor I’d start adding more service to my blog postings. So here are some tips for traveling WITHOUT your kids. They’re not authoritative by any means, but they work for me. and I bail, er, I mean, go on work- or mental-health-related trips, without my family about twice a year:

1. Do NOT equivocate when you are leaving.
There was a moment in the car when the Little Nutball looked uncertain and sad, and said, “I don’t want to you to go.” Things were shaky, and if I’d paused or looked uncertain too, that would have led to tears. I used my best former-telemarketer voice when replying, “Don’t worry! You and daddy are going to have SO MUCH FUN! I’m only gone for 2 days, but sleeping time doesn’t count, so that’s actually only one day! I’ll be back so soon! And you and daddy are going to have SO MUCH FUN! And you get to pick me up at the airport! Won’t that be FUN!” And, you know what she said? Believe it or not, her reply was: “Yeah! That’s going to be fun!” with a big smile and that calculated gleam in her eyes that indicated she knew she’d be able to con dad into doing all kinds of things that mom always says no to.

2. Don’t promise toys.
I indicated I would find a souvenir to bring home, but I didn’t go overboard. What if my bag was lost, or I couldn’t find anything, or if the first thing she’d said when she saw me was “What did you bring me?!” That would suck.

3. Don’t say you “I miss you,” on the phone to your small child, unless you can say it without choking up, or you’re almost home anyway. Again, they pick up on your energy, so a cheery “I miss you! But you know what, I’ll be home soon, and we’re going to hang out and play!” is okay but a weepy, mom-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown “I miss you sooooo much, honey…” is going to make them sad and fearful. I went with questions about her day, what she ate, where she and her dad went, and left it at “I love you! I’m excited about coming home tomorrow!” and was rewarded with a nonchalant “Me too! …Mommy? I have to go look for Tabby Kitten now, I’ll talk with you later.” When I’m gone, life goes on. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

About Author:

Yuki Hayashi, mother of a five-year-old daughter, AKA The Little Nutball, writes from home and admits her household lacks routine. If you’re feeling a bit scattered as a parent, you’ll find comfort in her Momedy blog.