A Child’s Version of Time: How to Look at Days Out & Entertainment Dollars

With the renovation and house-move, combined with the summer being the busiest period for the hubs at work, we haven’t been able to plan a summer holiday for the boys.

This might sound as though we run the the risk of them missing out on an important childhood experience. Except at this stage, the baby still pretty much does the same three things (you know what those are!) whether he’s at home or somewhere exotic. And a memorable treat for the three year old involves being allowed to eat popcorn in his pajamas.

So the potential allure of the missing family holiday is somewhat diminished by the sophistication of their current sensibilities …or lack thereof!

Instead, the hubs and I have attempted to take them on one family outing each weekend. We’ve been to the farmers market, the local historical site, the soft-play centre and the spray park. So this past weekend we tried out the zoo.

I’ve found that most of these outings become quite expensive and/or cumbersome rather quickly. The historic park and soft-play have hefty admission, while the spray park requires inordinate amounts of gear — special clothes, shoes, various water cannon-type toys. Even the farmer’s market typically results in a significant outlay of funds as we are forced to pay for the items the three year old has squished, dropped, fondled or claimed as his own.

And then there’s the cost of ice cream, because there’s always ice cream.

So in an effort to mitigate our spiraling mini-staycaction costs, the hubs and I packed a lunch, treats and water bottles in a cooler ahead of our planned visit to the zoo.

Initially, all went went as we were lucky enough to see some of the bigger animals up close:

zoo, elephant, kids
spotting the elephant on her walk
kids, little boy, canada
getting close … but not too close
tiger zoo
tiger’s post-breakfast nap

We even braved the line-up for the tiny train ride, a contraption of Lilliputian proportions that gave the hubs and I backache for days afterward but which thrilled the kids:

train baby zoo fun
train ride
little boy canada
thrilled little boy

About halfway through the outing we stopped for a mid-morning snack, just enough to give the boys something to ward off the crankies until lunchtime. Except as we wandered through the avian exhibit looking at owls and eagles, and through the large herbivore enclosures with mountain goats and takins, the kids became wilder and more restless, running (or stumble-tripping in the case of the fledgling-walker) and not listening to instructions to come back, stay out of the water, not throw gravel into the wind … although that proved to be a self-limiting activity.

goat petting zoo small children
the worlds most zen goat

Just as we left the petting zoo area, the threenager decided to have a sitting-on-the-floor, screaming-at-the-top-of-his-lungs meltdown … about the presence of sand in his shoes. He was not mollified by the logical consequence “if you jump in it, it will clump in your socks” and was aghast that he could not simply doff his shoes and socks and continue barefoot.

Watching this Greek tragedy unfold, the baby felt it necessary to also have a crying fit, although given that his method of communication is currently confined to vigorous and enthused pointing, the source of his consternation was less clear. It may have been sand-stickiness sympathy, but more likely it was because he had spotted an ice cream stand. Currently, his favourite showstopper involves taking a large mouthful of soft-serve … and then sneezing. Really, it’s quite spectacular. But only if you’re not the one trying to clean it up with wet wipes and bottled water.

In an attempt to calm everyone down we sat at a picnic bench, dusted off the sand-encrusted sticky feet, wiped the tears, proferred drinks and the beginnings of an early lunch.
But it was to no avail.
Sippy cups were dropped on the floor in defiance of looming dehydration, apple slices were strewn across the bench, healthy treats were snubbed in favour of longing gazes toward other children happily consuming those frozen conglomerations of artificial colour, high fructose corn syrup and chocolate.
Between the sun, the fun, and the over-stimulation the boys were just plain done. It was time to go home. It was only just 11.30, but it was time to go.

This meant that the hubs and I had once again spent a considerable sum for just two hours worth of child-friendly entertainment. While other families seem to be able to make a whole day out of a day trip, we only seem to manage a brief reconnaissance.

Trudging back towards the car with the still-grumbling baby bemoaning his lot in the stroller, I tried to analyze what we were doing wrong. Should we have paced ourselves better? Started later? Given-in to the allure of the ice cream?

Then I heard the hubs talking to the three year old.

Did you have fun?

Yeah!

What did you see?

Elephant! And tiger! And bird! And BIG bird! And other one bird! And ….

Do you want to come back soon?

Yeah! Tomorrow?!

What I’d been viewing as something of a failure — and a hot, sweaty, sticky, sandy, and brief failure at that — was for the kids a raging success.

While my inner penny-pincher was thinking in terms of value per hour, I’d somehow missed that for two small dudes, two solid hours of running around, seeing new, strange animals and discovering new places to play was about as much fun as they could cope with in one day. Leaving late-morning wasn’t leaving early, it was leaving when they were ready.

So much of the struggle of parenting seems to be about adjusting that internal clock, the sense of time and daily rhythm we have developed as adults. When we have children, our 9-5 life is flipped on its head and time is transformed, converted to increments of 45-minute feeds through the night with newborns, and brief activities between morning, afternoon and evening naps in babyhood. As my boys get older, the “useful” time to play and learn and have fun is slowly increasing.

Too often I forget that they are still small, just like their measure of time.

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