National Post


Take your family on a weekend excursion ... for hours of misery, cajoling, tears, whining and crying, punctuated by fleeting moments of wonder

- Richard Whittall Weekend Post

Last weekend I took my kids to our boring little local park, where I met one of the local dads. It was a gorgeous spring day; warm enough to drop coats on the bench, sun shining, green buds showing on the barren trees.

It was also the weekend of the cherry blossom bloom at High Park in Toronto, when the Japanese trees explode into gorgeous white clouds heralding the warm summer months around the corner. The cherry blossoms are wonderful, magical and … incredibly popular with thousands of families around the city. We both talked about it. “You gonna go?” I asked, as his son kicked around the soccer ball with my kids.

“I mean, they’re beautiful,” he said.

“Then I remembered the long line- up of cars,” he added, “the lack of parking, the kids whining about the long walk, the thousands of people pushing each other around the trees to get a selfie. So we came here instead,” he shrugged, pointing to our tiny, mostly empty local park.

The weekend crush. Saturdays and Sundays at home with the family can be hard enough with small kids, but there is something about the way it is amplified in crowds that makes for a special kind of hell. SUV demolition derbies over the last remaining parking spots. A constant cacophony of “No, Brandon!” and “Stop, Madison!” Endless line-ups dotted with food-smeared children.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a challenge for the next time you visit a museum, gallery or any area generally designated for tens of thousands of parents with small children on the weekend: try to find the relaxed, smiling family; the one that is completely at ease with their surroundin­gs and genuinely enjoying themselves.

You might want to set a timer.

A plethora of options doesn’ t help dilute t he hordes either, and boy are there a lot of options: farmer’s markets, trampoline gyms, children’s discovery centres, baby pandas at the zoo, IMAX movies at the science museum, interactiv­e kidzone art gallery spaces, and dinosaurs, always dinosaurs, dinosaurs everywhere. Then there is the more seasonal fare: apple- picking joints, pumpkin patches, maple sugar bushes, and, of course, the cherry blossoms.

They all have websites with ticket info ( year- long membership­s/government subsidies always available!), directions and sometimes even advice on when to avoid peak hours – which often means arriving at dawn’s first light, breakfast in hand.

But it doesn’t actually matter.

If you had the bright idea to go when and where you did with your kids, so did everyone else. They will meet you there and tell you the same: this wasn’t their first choice, they thought they’d come here to try to “avoid the crowd.” No such luck it seems, and sorry we don’t have any spare pullups and there’s a 20- minute wait to get into the bathroom.

All of this raises the question: why do we do this to ourselves? Why, like the dad at the park, don’t we always opt for the easy way out rather than join the throng of tired, bickering families?

The answer is the weekend excursion is a microcosm of the central contradict­ion of parenting itself – hours of misery, of cajoling, of tears and whining and crying, punctuated by fleeting moments of wonder that make it all worthwhile.

Though I recall absorbing my own parents’ stress at the parking, the line-ups, the complainin­g, the hunger and the drudgery and fighting in the car whenever we went out as a family; I can also remember the otherworld­ly silence of the ( now permanentl­y closed) planetariu­m, the towering tyrannosau­r bones at the ROM, the excitement as the ferry, full to capacity, crossed the bay to- ward the Toronto Islands.

The dilemma that tired parents face each weekend – often after five days of fulltime work – is whether the stress of braving the crowds is worth it to capture those few ephemeral joys.

When the local dad tells me about the cherry blos- soms, I’m reminded of one my favourite photos. My son, who is just under a year old, is in my wife’s arms. She’s lifting him up, and one of his hands is raised to the canopy of white flowering trees.

In the shot, it’s just the two of them. What you can’t see – but what I still remem- ber – is the army of families each waiting to get their own photo, the illusion of grace and calm in a crush of people.

“Yeah, I hate the crowds too,” I tell him, before adding, “But we’ll probably go next weekend.”

 ?? DARREN CALABRESE/ NATIONAL POST ?? Visit the blossoming cherry trees, if you want aggravatio­ns, broken up by brief moments of wonder.
DARREN CALABRESE/ NATIONAL POST Visit the blossoming cherry trees, if you want aggravatio­ns, broken up by brief moments of wonder.

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