A dad’s take: This summer, shake things up — and get out of town

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Summer is almost upon us, and this is the time of year I start getting a little nostalgic about some of my favourite moments as a parent. One thing I’d recommend all parents try while the weather is nice is travelling one-on-one with your young son or daughter.

Back when I covered NHL hockey for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, I often found myself with a lot of time off in the summer (such was the trade-off for working almost every day during hockey season). With eight weeks to fill, a wife at work, a young son to care for, and only so many local parks to visit, I often found myself looking for options to make the summertime a little more interesting for both of us.

One of my fondest memories was taking a train to Montreal with my then-two-year-old son, Owen, and just exploring the city with no set schedule. Despite paying some outlandish fee to go to the Biodome, what my boy really wanted to do all day long was ride the subway (despite the fact we’d already taken a train to get to that train).

Riding the subway is normally one of those pain-in-the-butt chores of life, a daily “adventure” filled with awful people saying awful things loudly into their phones, weird smells, and a never-ending invasion of your personal space.

But when you’re on the subway with a two-year-old, it actually is an adventure for him or her, and you can appreciate, even for just a few fleeting moments, what it must be like to be a kid. Everything is cool and fun and great, the actual stress of travelling melts away, and you’re just left with a wonderful experience.

With every passing year, that wonder fades just a tiny bit — just as it did when you or I were kids. It’s still there, but it just pops up a little less frequently. A few years later, I hit the road again with my boy. At that point, he was five (going on 13), and so much had changed.

Unlike a two-year-old, who will follow you around and listen without argument when you’re, you know, giving him advice that will keep him alive (i.e. hey buddy, it’s a parking lot, that’s maybe not the best place to spin in a circle), my five-year-old became an expert on everything, which I gather was his way of starting to establish himself in the world.

Not only is the parking lot actually a safe place to spin, he knew exactly where we were going and when and why — all of which contradicted everything I knew about those topics. So if I said, “just hang on buddy, there’s a washroom in 10 minutes, he’d inform me that, actually, there wasn’t, it was “in a million years.”

Me: Wow, look at that movie theatre, it looks like a spaceship.

Owen: No, that isn’t a movie theatre. How do you know it’s a movie theatre? You don’t live here.

Me: I read the side of the building.

Owen: No, you’re wrong.

K. A few miles later…

Me: Oh, Panera Bread, I love that place, let’s eat there.

Owen: Actually, you hate Panera Bread (I just said I love it). One time when we were going to the cottage (??? we don’t have a cottage ???) and I said I wanted Panera Bread (the one time he had it, he said he didn’t like it) and you said no because you hated it.


On the other hand, there are those same moments I saw in Montreal. After arriving on the long, sandy, windy beaches of Sandbanks for the first time, we spent about two straight hours laughing and playing in the waves.

And, after complaining about the food at Panera Bread (which was really a surprise because apparently, he loved it), he suddenly said, “Dada, I’m really glad we went on this trip.”

Me too, buddy.

Since then, we’ve done road trips to a few other places, and I’ve had the privilege of watching that five-year-old grow into a sweet, caring seven-year-old — one who is always ready and willing to help me manage his four-year-old brother, William (who recently joined us on our summer jaunts).

As any mom or dad knows, when you’re in the thick of everyday parenting and you’re totally exhausted, the days tend to start running into each other and then slip away.

But getting out of your routine — and sometimes even your city — for even a couple of days can help you to hit the pause button and capture moments that’ll stay with you for a lifetime.

James Gordon is an Ottawa writer and entrepreneur. Follow him at Twitter.com/James_J_Gordon.