Highway Robbery – The Tale Of The Ridiculous Toll Bill

With all the 2020ness in 2020, it seems like everyone is just wishing that this year would end. Today, though, I have a positive story for y’all. It’s about how, after a six month battle, I finally emerged victorious. Score one for the little guy, woo!  If you’ve ever wondered how to fight a toll bill, read on….

 

See, it all started a long time ago, in an era when international travel was still a thing (remember that? Me neither).   February of this year!  Ya boy was on his way to the Dad 2.0 Summit.  I flew to it out of Buffalo’s airport. I should note that I’m an infrequent visitor to New York State. The Wazes App is my best friend, the few times that I am there. I know of toll booths, from travelling on highways in the US, but I had no clue that New York used a cashless toll system.

A month after Dad 2.0, in April, I get a bill in the mail from Tolls By Mail. Apparently, I unwittingly used a toll highway at some point in Buffalo, and now they’ve come to collect. The bill was for……….

 

 

Ain’t it funny (word to J-lo!)? It costs way more to process a bill, print it, and mail it to Canada, than the actual  amount of the toll.  Why even bother? At this point, I’ll own up to making a mistake. Instead of paying this immediately, I forgot about it.

About a month later, in May, I received another bill from Tolls By Mail. For not paying the $1, I now owed……

six dollars

Fair is fair. I used their service, and I was late paying for the use of it. Tolls By Mail has an online payment option, so that’s what I did. When I logged into my account, to pay, the total owing was $2. I remember thinking that was odd, but maybe I got a discount for paying online, instead of sending a cheque.

 

HOW TO FIGHT A TOLL BILL

 

My account was paid off, end of story, right?

 

wrong!

 

Weeks later, I received ANOTHER letter from Tolls By Mail. This time, it stated that, for not paying my $1 toll, I now owed $51 in late fees!

51 US dollars!

51 US dollars was like 80 something dollars Canadian! When I logged into Tolls By Mail again, the balance owing was this amount. How do I pay off a bill, and receive a receipt indicating as much, only for the company to see that I paid it, re-bill me for it, then tack on a fine for non-payment that is 5000% greater than the original violation?

I had to call Tolls By Mail, to find out. With the pandemic, their customer service is limited, so I was on hold for a long time. When I did finally speak to an agent, I was told that, for reasons that she didn’t know, two accounts were generated for me. So, same name, same license plate, but the addresses were different. If my address was 123 Sesame Street, they had an account for that, but also for 123 Sesame Street Rural Route 4.

 

Anyway, she said that my payment got applied to the “wrong” account. She advised me to prepare a letter indicating this mix up, and mail it to their dispute department. I couldn’t talk to this department, or email them. Correspondence is by mail only, because apparently the year is 1920, not 2020.

 

Unrelated, but that 1920s Henry Ford drip is timeless, no doubt.

 

Flash forward to late June. No reply to my letter, and my account still showed $51. Another call is needed, to follow up. This time, I spoke to an agent who was working from home. Her connection and phone were so bad, though, that it was like I was talking to the speaker in a McDonald’s drive-thru. I was able to decipher in our convo that correspondence was taking longer, due to pandemic issues. Being in Canada was also a factor, due to postal delays here.

She did have a new reason for my two accounts. Apparently, last year, in June, I had been to Buffalo, and, unwittingly again, used toll highways. I incurred a charge of….$2

This was news to me, of course. And, through the phone distortion, the agent was shocked, too, that I never was informed, and that there weren’t more late fees. I did not receive anything in the mail, ever, about this $2 fee. However, when I paid off the bill online in May, that was to pay off the June 2019 amount.

Now, I’m just a regular dad of average intelligence.  My account  balance was $2. When Tolls By Mail received my payment, someone there  had the wherewithal to notice the two accounts in my name. Instead of leaving it at that, or doing up a letter explaining the error, and requesting payment for $1, this person consolidated the accounts, and charged me $1, plus $50 for being delinquent.

UMM, Why??

The agent didn’t have an answer. She suggested that to settle things up, all I needed to do was send a money order for $6  (the amount of the second letter, if you recall) along with, you guessed it, another letter explaining what happened to the mysterious, technologically backwards dispute department. I ordered a Big Mac before I hung up, (not!)  then headed to the bank. If you’ve ever wanted to be laughed at by a bank teller, I suggest ordering a $6 US money order for a $1 toll charge. Even they took pity on me, and didn’t charge any transaction fees for this nonsense.

Weeks later,  end of July, I check my Tolls By Mail account. The amount owing is $45. So, they got my money order, cool. Instead of cancelling the balance, as I was told, they just applied the $6 and left it open.

Not cool.

Another call is needed.

This agent told me that my case was still in dispute, and no resolution was made yet.  This contradicts what I was told on my prior call, as the $6 was supposed to have been the resolution. Decisions were still slow, because of the pandemic. I could expect to hear back via mail once a decision was made. I did ask if there was anything that I could do, to speed things up. It’s nicknamed snail mail, not cheetah mail, and Tolls By Mail already screwed things up in my account. The agent advised me to hang tight, and not to worry.

On August 21st, I received the following letter, dated AUGUST 3rd:

 

HOW TO FIGHT A TOLL BILL

 

ARE YOU JOKING ME?!

 

Soooo, just to recap. I paid my toll bill. Tolls By Mail received my money, then realized that they messed up billing my account.  Due to this mistake, they charged me an exorbitant late fee. After two attempts to rectify the situation, PER THEIR SUGGESTIONS, and after they acknowledged that their snail mail system of doing things is slow, they came up with this result. There was little chance that I would even receive this letter within 10 days, let alone receive it, then be able to send it back with payment within 10 days! And how the heck did they come up with this $5 settlement amount, too? I was bemused before, but now I was mad.

Time to make another call to Tolls By Mail. After telling my story, and explaining how unfair their 10 day ultimatum was, the agent gave me another number to call.  Will I FINALLY be able to talk to the mysterious dispute department?

Nope.

It was the number for their collections company, Linebarger, Heard, Goggan, Blair and Sampson LLP. Because I didn’t pay within 10 days, they sent my debt to collections.  To paraphrase some famous scholar, ish just got real, dawg!

This time, the collections agent told me to (stop me if you’ve heard this before) prepare a letter, but fax it to them.   They would then review it, and send it back to Tolls By Mail dispute department, to see if they could pull back the fees. The agent also revealed to me that they received my file in late July.

You know, so when I called Tolls By Mail around then, to ask what was up with my account, and they told me to hang tight, that actually meant that they had every intent to send my debt to collections, regardless. Then, the unrealistic, unreasonable letter that they sent me was just for show, as even if I magically was able to meet their 10 day deadline, it was pointless, as the $45 was already in the hands of the collection agency.

 

My sentiments exactly, confused shadow girls.

 

I send the fax, along with my supporting documents. Two days later, I call LHGBS (emphasis on the BS, in my case). They received my fax, and had forwarded it on to my friends in the dispute department.  Let’s call Tolls By Mail, and ask to talk to my pals, to follow up.

The agent was pretty rude, to be perfectly honest, unlike the others. After explaining my story, I was told, in no polite terms,  that the only way to communicate with the dispute department was by mail. She could not transfer me. They did not have a phone number or email for that department. When I asked how did she get in touch with them, then, the agent said that they didn’t. Mail only.

side note:

Can you imagine what the holiday parties at Tolls By Mail must be like? I picture the agents happily sipping eggnog in one place, while the Wizard Of Oz-like dispute department are hard at work in their office, because their snail mailed invitations to the party didn’t come  in time. 

Anyway, I then asked to speak to a manager. After initially being told that they didn’t have one (these people don’t have bosses? Do they all work in silos independently or something?), she then said that a manager would just tell me the same information. Fine, so put one on then, was my reply. I am then on hold for three minutes. When the agent came back, she told me that no managers were available, even though that they weren’t busy (huh?), and to call back later. Or, I could send a letter to the dispute department (since that worked out so well before).  Basically, she blew me off.

Now really mad, I did what anyone would do in the heat of the moment:

 

REACH OUT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO HELP ME RIGHT THIS WRONG!

 

 

Trump probably had more important things on his plate that morning than to worry about minor traffic infractions, so I quickly kiboshed that idea. I did the next best thing, though:

 

REACH OUT TO THE GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK STATE TO HELP ME RIGHT THIS WRONG!

 

I kept going to Andrew Cuomo’s staff’s voicemails, however. Not wanting to wait, I then did the next, next best thing – I called the NY State Thruway Authority’s Media Relations and Communications number.  My rationale was that they might provide me with the contact information for the mysterious Tolls By Mail dispute department, if I played my blogger card, and said that I was doing a story on them.  What? It was a Hail Mary play, but worth a shot.

I get through immediately, then tell the person my tale from the beginning.  At the end,  I ask for the contact info.  To my delight, the woman refuses to give it to me!

Don’t hate. 

It was because that she had the authority to waive the $45. She agreed with the ridiculousness, and authorized the removal of the late fee. If Tolls By Mail still decided to pursue the matter, she told me to send them her way. Perfect! And I didn’t have to play my blogger card, either.

Today, I logged into my Tolls By Mail account.  Here is what I saw:

 

 

After six months, my ordeal was finally over.

So what are the takeaways here?  Well, if you ever get a minuscule bill, just pay it immediately, for one. Tolls By Mail’s dispute process is very suspect, for another.  They’re so lacking in transparency, that even if you provide irrefutable evidence that they screwed up, they won’t admit it.  My experience is nothing, compared to some other horror stories in dealing with them, too.  Be careful when using the highways in New York!

Finally, and most importantly, any injustice,  big or small, is worth fighting for.  And even if takes a long time to make a change, you gotta keep fighting.

Until the next one, peace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Guide To Family Fun in Hamilton – 2020 Edition

 

The fight against COVID-19 is still an ongoing battle.  We have gotten to the point where we can proceed with caution in many aspects of our lives, though. Normally, for a  summer vacation, my family enjoys taking a road trip. We weren’t really ready/able to this year, however.  Turns out, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it comes to risk level during this pandemic, nothing beats staying home, sure. If you do want to get out, and #supportlocal,  I’ve learned that there  are plenty of fun places in Hamilton that are following government protocols (or going above and beyond them), to try to keep you and your family safe. After spending some time checking out new stuff, revisiting old favorites, and looking into others, I’ve compiled this guide of things to do in Hamilton with kids, during these quarantine times. To quote the Beastie Boys, ch-check it out!

 

GOLFING

Our summer days and nights are usually all about baseball, as all of the fam (minus little KJ) plays it. As most leagues are not running this year,  due to COVID-19, we had to look elsewhere, for our lower risk, socially distant sports fix.  For example, we signed B and J up for tennis lessons. In my case, I tried golfing.

 

southern pines golf and country club

 

Hamilton is home to numerous highly rated courses (including one that was the home to last year’s Canadian Open).  As a complete novice, I hit the links with another complete novice, on a course not far from my house, Southern Pines Golf And Country Club.  The cool thing about golf is that you can play it while comfortably abiding by COVID-19 protocols. For example,  Southern Pines has a mandatory mask policy when indoors there only. Check-in is done through a window outdoors, as is ordering takeout food and drinks.  Physical distancing is encouraged, and I didn’t see anyone not following it, when I was there. Carts are available for rent, but clubs are not.  You can’t remove the flag in each hole when putting, either, to minimize the touching of it.

The non-cool thing about golf is that it is super hard:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEUxrwMFfPD/

 

Southern Pines, while very scenic, also isn’t the easiest course to play or navigate. While bumbling along the greens looking for where to aim,  for example, someone yelled at us that to get to the hole, we had to take a dog-leg left. I still don’t know what the heck that means, but we, predictably, took aim at the wrong hole.  The duo of teen boys behind us did not have the same problem, for what it’s worth. Regardless, Southern Pines is still quite enjoyable, even for rookies like my buddy and I.

 

BOWLING

 

When I heard that Splitsville in Hamilton was opening back up a while ago, I will admit to being surprised. A bowling alley, with all of the sharing and closeness, seemed like a risky outing.  And that’s without mentioning the arcade there. In actuality, Splitsville Hamilton is following the government guidelines, and taking many other precautions to try to ensure that everyone’s visit is as safe as possible.

On our recent visit there, masks were mandatory everywhere except when you were at your lane. Capacity was also heavily limited, too.  Groups are limited to five people, and placed on every other lane, for social distancing purposes.  Arrows and signs were everywhere, as well, so the flow-through was suitably distant.

Regarding the bowling balls,  there’s no sharing. A bunch of them are already at the lane, when you get there. If you need another sized one, you have to ask a staff member for it.  When you’re done, you leave them there, along with your bowling shoes, both of which are cleaned and sanitized afterwards. There’s lots of hand sanitizer on site, and staff members were constantly cleaning the different surfaces. The restaurant is not open to dine in, but servers are available, to take food/drink orders. A little patio area is set up outside, too, if you just want to eat/drink.

 

things to do in hamilton with kids

 

Splitsville is one of the most fun things to do in Hamilton with kids, regardless. These procedural modifications didn’t hamper our bowling experience at all.

 

TREETOP TREKKING

 

treetop trekking hamilton

Treetop Trekking Hamilton is a place that I’ve heard good things about, and have been meaning to check out for a long time. It only took a pandemic for me to finally book a visit for the family. Located in the Binbrook Conservation Area, Treetop Trekking Hamilton is an outdoor park, with numerous courses and adventures for people of all ages.  There’s the Zipline And Aeriel Game Trek, for 9 year olds and up, where you move through the trees via various challenges; Discovery Kids Courses, which are like mini versions of the Aerial Game Trek, for kids 5 and up; and the Treewalk Village, a big playground, made up of treehouses, slides and obstacle courses, for kids 3-7.

Reservations are required ahead of time, because they are operating at a lower capacity, but are still busy. They want to stagger things, to reduce traffic during check-in (which is also done outdoors).  Equipment and harnesses are cleaned and sanitized after every use, too.  Hand sanitizer stations were readily available, and the staff are really particular about making sure people are acceptably spaced out, either in line, or on the different activities.  Masks are required during check-in, but not while out in the park.

We really did not know what to expect….

Because of time constraints, B and I opted for the Aerial Game Trek, while K, J and KJ did the Treehouse Village. The feedback that I got from  them about the Village was that it was more suited for smaller kids than older ones, and adults are mainly just there to supervise.  They also were done well before the allotted two hours. In retrospect, we would have got more bang for our bucks if we booked J  for the Discovery Kids Courses instead, and then let KJ do his thing, in the Village.

 

treetop trekking hamilton

Me holding up the line of people to take a selfie.

 

The Aerial Game Trek is admittedly  fantastic.  Once you are harnessed up, you go through a brief orientation, to get used to the equipment and rigging.

And then you are off to try the courses on your own!

The courses are composed of a variety of “games” that you have to pass through.  Once you are on one, there is no turning back, because of how things are designed, with the rigging.  The games includes stuff like rope bridges, tightropes, moving logs, and, of course, zip lines!

things to do in Hamilton with kids

The courses get progressively difficult and fear-inducing.  It’s pretty physically demanding,  as well, especially if you’re in dadbod shape like yours truly.  I was sweating profusely, but I didn’t want touch my face to wipe the sweat away, either. B’s an agile, athletic 10 year old kid, but he struggled as we went on,  and developed sore hands (note: bring gloves). We both tapped out before the last course, but it was good times for the most part.

One other note. Pricing for Treetop Trekking is not insignificant (our outing regular price would have been $150 approx, for the five of us). This does include admission to the Binbrook Conservation Area. To get the most value,  a decent plan might be to bring a picnic lunch, and hit up the Conservation Area before or after Treetop Trekking.

 

 

ADVENTURE VILLAGE

 

Adventure Village is an amusement park located in Confederation Park, which is on the waterfront in Hamilton. While some of the attractions are not open, some are,  with additional COVID-19 safety measures, like batting cages, go karts, laser tag and mini golf.

On a recent family outing there, to go mini-golfing, a tee time had to be booked ahead of time (maximum group size is six people).  Clubs, balls and retrievers are sanitized after every  use, by staff.  Masks are mandatory throughout the park, and available for purchase if you don’t have one. Temperatures of guests are taken via a non contact thermometer.  Hand sanitizer is at the entrance booth, but I did not notice it elsewhere on the course. While on the course,  you have to wait for those ahead of you to finish, as usual. I think that the actual holes seemed shorter too, so you don’t have to reach so deep down to get your ball.

Adventure Village, as mentioned, is near the shores of Lake Ontario.  As such, one thing that my family loves to do on a nice day, is grab some ice cream from Hutches, and go for a walk along the beach!

 

things to do in Hamilton with kids

 

 

PARKS AND RECREATION

For the more budget conscious outings, Hamilton has some sweet spots. Since it’s unofficially “The Waterfall Capital Of The World”, hikes to see said waterfalls are a popular past time. The Devil’s Punchbowl, in particular, is one of the more unique places in Ontario to  explore.

As I have alluded to before on here, playgrounds and splash pads are operational again, in and around the city. Hamilton is full of good ones, too. Gage Park, for one. The Dundas Driving Park, for another. Or my personal favourite,  Pier 4 Park.

 

pier 4 park

 

When it comes to kids, it tends to be hit and miss, in terms rule following, and COVID-19 guidelines. Some kids are OK, some, like Pushy (who we saw again at a completely different park! What are the odds?!) are not OK.

 

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

 

Catching a flick wasn’t really an option in Hamilton until not too long ago.   And, in the interest of realness, we have yet to venture out to the movies.  Cineplex Hamilton Mountain, Cineplex Ancaster, Playhouse Cinema and Landmark Cinemas 6 Jackson Square are all open, with modified, safer viewing experiences. These include reduced capacity, in-theatre seating distancing, masks requirements, enhanced cleaning measures by staff, and directional signage.

For that throwback vibe,  The Starlite Drive In Theatre in Stoney Creek, is also open.   Because of COVID-19, they’ve cut capacity, to allow for extra distance between vehicles.  As well, only members of the same household are allowed per vehicle. The on-site playground is closed, but concessions and washrooms are open. Tickets must be ordered ahead of time.  I didn’t see anything about masks being required.  Bottom line, for family fun ideas,  you can never go wrong with hanging out in your car and watching a movie under the stars!

BRING IT ON HOME

 

In terms of things to do in Hamilton with kids,  checking out shows, concerts and sporting events are highlights, for my family. These obviously haven’t been possible recently.  However, as the old saying goes, if you can’t build Rome in a day, bring Rome to your home! Pretty sure that I butchered two expressions there, but let’s continue.

For example, for those who miss going to Tim Hortons Field, to watch the Hamilton Ticats play, Bench Brewing Company has a special edition Ticats beer!    bench brewing companyGrab a six pack of that and throw on the 1999 Grey Cup, to get your pigskin fix. For bonus points, to get a truly authentic stadium experience, find a Toronto Argos fan in your neighbourhood, tell them that they suck, then get into a fist fight, while people nearby chant Oskee Wee Wee (note:  I’m joking. Please, no violence, people).

This pandemic has seen a rise in virtual events, as well.  Virtual fans are rising in popularity, such that it’s possible to get your travel fix, from the comfort of your couch.

 

 

Here’s me in the NBA Bubble, watching the Toronto Raptors play:

 

nba virtual fan

 

I made a trip to the WWE’s Thunderdome, to witness Summerslam:

 

wwe thunderdome

 

RANT TIME: this was a bummer!

See, I signed up, and was told that my time in the ‘dome was 10:45pm. The show was slated to end at 10:30, however. Weird. Hours before the show, I received an email saying that my time changed to 6:45pm. I logged in at 6:45pm, and was told that my session was over.  No Summerslam for me. For the heck of it, I then logged in at 10:45pm, and I got inside the Thunderdome. This is the virtual equivalent of wandering around the concert venue after the show is over, and no one else is in the building.

J and I did make a much better trip from Hamilton to Los Angeles, to watch America’s Got Talent from the ‘virtual audience’.

AGT Virtual audience

 

Some of my peeps couldn’t believe that I got these “tickets”, but it wasn’t that difficult.  Googling is bound to find scores of opportunities, if you know what you want to see!

With that, I think that’s it’s time to see the end of this post. Tata for now!

 

 

Yo, don’t be mad! I’ll be back again someday.

 

 

Disclaimer: complimentary or discounted rates were provided for some of the places mentioned in this post. Opinions expressed were all mine, as usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playground Rules in The New Normal

 

playground rules

 

What’s poppin’! Unlike Jack Harlow, I don’t have a new whip to hop in. However, like Jack Harlow,  I have spent a lot of time locked in. Well, figuratively speaking, because of COVID-19, and not having many places to go. Anyhoo, today we’re talking playground rules during these unique times.

You see, taking things step by step, day by day (word to the hilarious 90s sitcom!) has been replaced by taking things phase by phase. Here in Ontario, we are mostly in phase three presently, which includes the reopening of parks with play structures. This is great, in terms of stifling child boredom. My kids love themselves some playgrounds!

Having now made several trips to different parks throughout Hamilton, I’ve noticed some stuff, good and bad, on these outings. Consider these my playground rules and observations, to help make you make my, err, I mean your, next visit an enjoyable one!

 

I’M NOT CRAZY. YOU’RE CRAZY. OK, MAYBE WE BOTH AREN’T CRAZY.

 

During phase two, when playgrounds were closed, there were many a time when we’d pass one,  and notice people ignoring the caution tape and warning signs to play on them. KJ and J would see this, and eagerly ask if parks were open again. They would be routinely disappointed with the answer. Those people who were breaking the rules were crazy, I’d think to myself. So risky!

 

playground rules

For example, these people on the swings, bypassing the caution tape.

 

Flash forward to the present, when playgrounds are open.  I’ve heard a lot about how it’s crazy to let kids play there,  given how easy COVID-19 is spread. The touching of equipment, the close confines, the ease of snot and spit transfer, etc. These people could be right, of course.

Me?

Within reason, I’m fine with  taking the calculated risk, approved by the government, and letting my kids play there. It’s all about your comfort level, I guess. Wherever you fall on that, it’s all good, my dudes.

 

FROM A DISTANCE

 

Now, according to the Ontario government’s framework, kids are supposed to maintain two metres between themselves at playgrounds, unless they’re from the same household/social circle.  For KJ, his three year old mind doesn’t really grasp this concept. Or most concepts. For example, his concept of time revolves around his meals. 9:00am, 1:00pm,10:00pm, whatever, they mean nothing. Waking up means that it’s morning, because he gets a “good morning snack”. Lunch means that it’s afternoon. Dinner means that it’s almost bedtime. Bedtime means that it’s bedtime snack time. All in all, going to a park with him involves watching him closely, to monitor his social distancing.

J’s old enough to get it, though. And since she’s our dutiful rule follower, she’s quick to point out park-goers not obeying the rules. Our first park outing involved lots of scouting out different play structures before going to them, and her immediately relocating when someone got too close to her.  When she noticed people not socially distancing, like five kids hanging out together on one swing, she reported back to me. If my little park narc had a whistle and clipboard to write down all the infractions, her day would have been made.

 

THE WALKING DEAD

 

I’m a pleasant fellow, usually.  Word of warning, however: If I do see you at a park, I’m going to treat you like a zombie, and stay the heck away from you. If  you cough, I will probably scream in terror. If you sneeze, I will probably take a giant leaping dive away from you, like how someone in an action movie jumps out of the way of an exploding building. Don’t take it personally. In fact, feel free to do the same to me. It’s just the new playground rules, baby. In these COVID-19 times, a little judgemental exaggeration and paranoia can go a long way.

 

I…..I dunno. Moving on.

 

WATCH OUT FOR THOSE PUSHY KIDS

One recent park outing started off so well. The playground was only populated with two other kids, which was perfect. When we arrived, one dad was on a bench, happily lost in his phone, as his daughter roamed freely. I should have known something was up when, as we approached, the other dad there urgently kept trying to get his daughter to leave. Frantically even, with a sense of panic. Finally, he was able to do it, and the two of them quickly took off. The dad said goodbye to the other girl there, by name (l’ll call her Pushy, to protect the innocent).

When we got to the park, J handed me her bag of toys,  which I jammed in the backpack that I had. Her and KJ  took off for the slides. Seeing them, Pushy came over and introduced herself. Closely. With zero regard for social distancing. She was five years old, and with her dad, I heard her remark.  She wanted to play with them. J rolled her eyes, and said sure, doing her best to maintain some space. After a minute of Pushy following J and KJ around while spilling more details about her life, Pushy then came up to me, closely. She demanded to see J’s toys.

Sharing toys with some strange kid isn’t the best idea nowadays, so I nicely said nope, and that I was holding on to them, because they were special.

Pushy refused to take no for an answer!

She then asked J if she could see them. J heavily sighed, and agreed, so I pulled them out of the bag, and handed them to her.  As J showed the toys to Pushy, KJ was hollering for me, so I wandered over to him. When I turned around, though, Pushy was now sitting with J, closely, holding all of J’s toys. J was cringing and motioning frantically for me to come back. Turns out that Pushy took the toys, and wanted to keep them. At this point, I realized why the other dad was so quick to leave before.

I got the toys back from Pushy. We then told Pushy that we had to leave, because we had to go get their brother (partially true, as B was having a basketball practise at a nearby court). As we hurried off,  we all put on hand sanitizer, and I carried the toy bag delicately in front of me, like it contained a radioactive substance. We went to our car, where I proceeded to wipe the toys down with a combination of baby wipes and hand sanitizer. A bit extreme, I know.

I should note, unfortunately,  that Pushy’s dad did not see any of this encounter, as he spent the whole time chuckling at his phone, never looking up #baddadstereotype. Regardless, parents, if your kids are overtly friendly, that’s cool.  Maybe tell them to chill out on getting all up in strangers’ grills,  though.

 

THE GAMES WE PLAY

As luck would have it, B had a baseball practise the next day, which meant another playground outing for J and KJ, at a completely different park. This park was also lightly populated, which was nice. After a good amount of time on the play structures, with frequent breaks to clean their hands, they decided to play “family”.

 

 

In this family, J was a single mother (Yes, J said this loudly, which caused the moms nearby to do double takes). She was at the park with her son.

And who was I, you ask?

I was not part of the family. I was a stranger (yes, J said this loudly, too, which I  had to loudly reply that I wasn’t some random stranger, I was their dad. It’s 2020, and you never know when a Karen might strike, right?). Their game then started.   J played with her son KJ on a spinning ride thing. She then walked off to take a pretend phone call, leaving KJ with me. KJ proceeded to yell that I wasn’t his uncle. No clue why.  J then came back mad, wondering who this stranger was talking to her son.

Yeah, you know what sucks?

Any game in public that involves your kids acting like they don’t know you, and treating you like some random creep!

I kiboshed that game, and I don’t recommend that you play it on your next playground adventure, either.

OK, let’s kibosh this post now, too. Until the next one, peace!

 

Maybe we should stick to beaches.

Say It Loud

Last week,  I went into little KJ’s room, to check on him. Not immediately visible, I soon found him under a blanket, on his floor. He was playing hide and seek, he told me. He was alone, though, so I asked him who he was playing with. He was playing with his iPad, he replied. I tried to explain the rules of hide and seek, but his three year old brain wasn’t having it.

“I’m looking for myself! I’m finding myself!”

He then disappeared back under his blanket, to enjoy his superhero videos on YouTube.

I mention this story because, with the racially-charged events of the past week, I feel like I’ve been hiding under a blanket, and I need to do some searching myself.

 

I’ve always been a black guy who wasn’t always considered black enough. Interpret that statement as you see fit.  Being a black Canadian is not the same as being a black American, but racism and bigotry does exist here. It’s impossible to ignore. My approach to it, since I was a kid, has always been to bite my tongue, and be myself. If you’re going to hate me, hate me for me, and not for some preconceived ignorance. And, call it disenfranchised, or disillusionment,  or helplessness, but I just didn’t think that me fighting back alone would accomplish anything.

So yeah, I guess I accepted racism, and normalised it.  Through every “random” search or bag check.  Through every time someone ended a sentence with “But it’s OK for me to say that. I have a black friend!”.  Through every incident where the only possible explanation was discrimination.  Through every time I walked down a street, and an oncoming woman would cross the road instead of risk coming near me (when this happens nowadays, quite frankly, I get nervous, too, sometimes. As  Amy Cooper disgustingly demonstrated, fear on itself can be used as a weapon).  Through every mistreatment by those in positions of power. Through every racial epithet hurled towards me. Through every racial epithet hurled towards my children.

 

 

This stuff wasn’t OK, but I’m just one guy. It all made me mad on the inside, the casual and not-so-casual racism. People with bigger influence and platforms could not affect change, when more horrific incidents took place. So what, for example, was I supposed to do when a white client who I’ve never met before, while at a business dinner, and to much laughter from other white guests at the table, asked me if I was going to order some fried chicken, when we were at an upscale fish restaurant?  I didn’t do anything of significance about anything at all, and taught my kids as much.

Nothing when it became a problem to reach for your wallet while black (#amadoudiallo). Or walk to the store while black (#mikebrown  #trayvonmartin). Or jog while black (#ahmaudarbery). Or be a kid playing games while black (#tamirrice).  Or go to church while black (#charleston9). Or sell CDs while black (#altonsterling). Or breathe while black (#ericgarner).  Or have a bachelor party while black (#seanbell).  Or stay alive while black (#freddiegray). Or hang out at home while black (#bothamjean  #atatianajefferson  #breonnataylor).  And so on, and so on.

These tragedies would usually fall into the same cycle. Shock and disbelief about them, with the hashtags and outrage on social media.  This would end in shock and disbelief about the outcomes of them, be it riots, peaceful protests like Colin Kaepernick’s, or miscarriages in justice at the court level. And then what?

To those not directly impacted, or those who don’t stay to fight the good fight, they would  ‘trend’. The thing with trends, though, is that they aren’t permanent. They’re a thing, until they aren’t, and then it’s on to the next one.   #alllivesmatter when #blacklivesmatter, but that point would get overshadowed by the many not in favour and indifferent to the Black Lives Matter movement.  From this black Canadian dad’s perspective, the cycle of racism was going to be never ending, because there wasn’t the required desire to fix it, at its core. All that I could do was be the best that I could be, to those that know me, so that maybe any ignorance or hate in my circle would be lessened.

And then the heinous, callous death of George Floyd happened.

I don’t need to get into the video, or how cold-blooded the Minnesota police officers in it were.  What I will say, however, is that the reaction to his death has been different.  More passionate. People who normally don’t say anything, are demanding changes. Canadians who normally don’t say anything about racial tensions, are saying enough is enough.

Will all of this lead to anything? I don’t know, man.

A quote by Angela Davis that’s been floating around a lot lately says:

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

 

I’d add being silent and accepting as also not being enough. We all need to use our voices and our platforms, big or small, to talk about racism, no matter how hard the conversations are.  The cycle needs to be broken. The time to take our heads out from under the blankets is now.

Stay safe, everyone, and Rest In Power, George Floyd.

 

 

 

Working From Home With Kids And Other Quarantine Life Stories

 

working from home with kids

 

Hey, all you cool cats and kittens! When I last gave y’all an update, my family was still adjusting to that quarantine life. I was also still adjusting to working from home with kids, too. Since that time in early April, a lot has changed.  With these changes comes lots of free time to analyse them. Or, in this case, blog about them. Random musings start……NOW!

 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH KIDS

 

We’ve settled into a workable routine, on this front.  I’ve been fortunate enough to remain employed, so I do my work upstairs at a table by the window.  With no door, my space is the definition of ‘open door policy’, which my fam takes advantage of.  Luckily, this hasn’t affected my job too much. I mean , only one client on the phone has heard little KJ screaming “Daddy! I POOPED!” in the background, anyway.

Back in the early days of self isolation, there was still a hope here in Ontario that schools might open up before the end of June. This all changed recently, though, when the government announced that schools will be closed for the duration of  the year.  K, who is a teacher, has seen her job responsibilities change lately, with a greater emphasis on distance learning. So between her work, and mine, plus B, J and KJ, it’s a juggling act, for real. Speaking of which…..

 

TEACHING THE KIDS AT HOME

 

B and J both have daily curriculum distant learning requirements. I don’t know about your kids, but getting these two to do even the bare minimum is a regular struggle. Dragging them away from their devices to do just an hour of school work is the parenting equivalent of playing Pac Man. They zip around the house, gobbling up screen time, but as soon as they see K and I with assignments, they immediately take off in opposite directions.

 

I could learn a thing or two from your kids!

 

Even if we track them down, they still make excuses to not do their work.  Oh, the excuses! The other day, B looked at a project, and told me that he couldn’t do it, because it would take 24 minutes, and his arm would get sore from writing for that long. This is the same active kid who will shoot hundreds of shots on the mini basketball net in his room . The same kid who sits in the same position for long periods playing video games. Maybe if he thought that it would have taken 23 minutes, then he would have done it?

 

 

Toddler quarantine life, PART UNO

 

 

 

With toddlers, routine is key.  KJ’s life used to consist of waking up early,  and me getting him ready to take him to his daycare. He spends the day there, hangs with other children, gets picked up by K later, comes home, does dinner, then eases into his bedtime routine.

In quarantine life, now that we are working from home with kids, his routine has been blown up. KJ is now the type who will wake up at 10:30am, ask if it’s breakfast time or lunch, and get mad when he can’t have a Popsicle and garlic knot to eat. He’s the type who doesn’t nap anymore, and doesn’t understand why he can’t take a toy boat that’s bigger than him to bed, when he’s tired. He’s the type who will happily sit around almost naked all day.

I can’t blame the poor kid. Think about it. What if you couldn’t tell time,  had zero responsibilities, and were completely dependent on someone else to provide for you?

What would you do?

Shoot, you’d probably sit around in your underwear , confused, wondering why you can’t eat garlic knots for breakfast, too!

 

 TODDLER quarantine life, PART DEUCES

KJ does not have any peers his age, to interact with.  B and J do try to entertain him, but the age gaps between them makes it hard. As such, KJ is usually left to his own imagination, to amuse himself.  Mr Sun is now his good friend, for instance.

 

It’s literally the sun.

 

I’ll also do the honors on a  daily basis, and try to play with him.  Man, if I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – never underestimate the imagination of a child.

KJ came up with this one game for us to play recently. Him and I were firefighters. We lived at the firehouse with our baby. I don’t know how we became parents to this kid, but bear with me.

We would then get an emergency call and have to go rushing to a room in the house, to deal with it. Did I mention that we had superpowers, too? And that we had to stop villains, in addition to putting out fires or rescuing people?

THEN, when we were done solving the emergency, we would come back to the fire house, but our baby was missing! So, we would have to try to find him in the house, as well.

This game went on for like two hours. Every nuance and plot twist was his idea.  It was basically the best/worst action movie that I could think of. Quentin Tarentino would be proud.

I’m not proud, Mike.

 

THE ENCINO MAN EFFECT

 

Remember that movie Encino Man? A caveman gets unfrozen in the modern age, and  early 90s, Pauly Shore-led hilarity ensues? Working at home with kids and living the quarantine life got me pondering this analogy.

What if I was frozen in January, and unfrozen last month? It would have been a huge culture shock, correct?  The city would have been like a ghost town. Few cars on the streets. Most stores closed.  Rec centres, movie theatres and other fun stuff closed.  No sports to watch. Long lineups to get into grocery stores. Not many people out and about.  Something called Zoom would be my go to app.

Ontario recently started to loosen up some of the stay home restrictions, in phases. We are currently in the early stages of this, proceeding with caution. The funny (not funny) thing is, though, if I  was unfrozen today……it wouldn’t be such a culture shock.

In my part of Hamilton, Ontario, anyway,  there is a lot more normalcy around town.  Large gatherings  of people hanging out shoulder to shoulder in their driveways. Groups of  neighborhood children playing together. Teen friends shooting hoops.  Drive-by birthday parties have become full-on birthday parties. I go by the nearby school (still closed), and the parking lot is half full of cars and people.

 

It makes me wonder…..is all of this too much, too soon? Should more responsibility be taken, in following the stay home recommendations? Or are we at the point where-stir craziness and mental well-being wins out over worrying about getting the coronavirus? Is the worst really behind us? I don’t know, man.  All I know is that if I was frozen today, and unfrozen six months later,  and I find out that we’re still dealing with second or third, or more, waves of outbreaks around here, I won’t be shocked.

I really hope not, though.

 

 

MIKE VS TICKETMASTER

 

On February 18,  I bought tickets on Ticketmaster for J and I to go to a NBA G-League game, for $18.10.  Toronto Raptors 905 vs. Capital City Go-Go game, March 24.

Weeks later, when things on the ol’ social calendar started to be crossed off due to coronavirus concerns, this was one of them. The G League suspended the season indefinitely on March 12. As of this writing, it has not resumed operations.  J and mine’s game was obviously not played.

I don’t know about you, but with life slowed down these days, looking into stuff more carefully has become a habit. A few weeks after the non-game, I found it odd that I hadn’t received any communication from Ticketmaster about a refund. I thought, from reading their policy before, that postponed/suspended events qualified for refunds. When I looked on Ticketmaster’s website at the time, however, the policy only referenced refunds for cancelled events.

I tried calling Ticketmaster for clarification, but after being on hold for a long time, I got disconnected. A quick look on the old Google machine, however, revealed that I wasn’t suffering from the Mandela Effect about  misremembering the refunds.  According to numerous articles, amidst the abundance of events being shelved because of the COVID-19 crisis, Ticketmaster quietly changed the wording of their policy. “Refunds are available if your event is postponed, rescheduled, or cancelled” apparently became “Refunds are available if your event is cancelled.”

Our non-game currently has a status of TBD, in terms of a date.

 

Since it hasn’t been cancelled (even though the likelihood of fan-attended games for any sport, any soon isn’t realistic), I’m out of luck for getting my $18.10 back. And look, I get it.

It’s only like twenty bucks, what’s the big deal? STOP COMPLAINING.

I’m sure that life at Ticketmaster the last few months must be pure chaos.  To their credit, due to the backlash, they have tweaked their refund policy. It kind of gives the event organizer more discretion in terms of giving refunds or not. So, in my case, I gotta wait on the G League to decide, as well.

While it’s only $18.10 for me, what if I had spent $181.10 per ticket, to see the Toronto Raptors play, and this was the case? What if I dropped $500 for concert tickets, only for the show to be rescheduled for an unknown date? What if, instead of working from home with kids, I  lost my job and needed the cash back? A lot of money is being held up right now by Ticketmaster. It’s understandable, given the uncertain economic climate….yet it still doesn’t seem right.

What does seem right, however, is wrapping this post up. Stay safe out there.  Until the next one, peace!

When all else fails……just dance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Guide To My Father’s Day Gifts, Throwback Edition

It’s almost Father’s Day season! That time of the year where dads everywhere are shown some love. Now, for many of us, that love is in the form of presents. Beautiful, glorious gifts, straight from the hearts of those who appreciate us the most.  In our household, the kiddos tend to hook me up nice. They put in work, making some sweet gifts for their old man, which they are dying to show me. Conversely, I’m dying to show you some from a few years ago. A lil inspiration for your own Fathers day gift ideas  in 2020.

 

So let’s get to it!

 

Yo, B and J, come here. Can I please see what you’ve created? Alright J, you first. What do you got?

 

Fathers day gift ideas 2020

 

Amazing artwork! I love them. You did these all by yourself? Wow, your penmanship is spectacular for a four year old.

Oh, what’s that?

You got me a medal, too? For being the World’s Greatest Dad? But I didn’t even know that I was in the running this year for it. I wasn’t even in the movie!

Yes, of course, I’ll put it on!

 

Fathers day gift ideas 2020

 

I’d like to thank my family, the Academy, and my fellow nominees, and…..sorry, let’s get back on track.

B, what did you make?

 

20160620_220743

 

Homemade BBQ rub! Yum! What’s your secret recipe?

Spicy peppers and sugar?

Delicious. Can’t wait to try it! Oh, you made some artwork, too? Sweet!

 

20160620_220906

 

A family portrait? Well done! Very true to life, right down to my bald head!

 

20160620_220839

 

A picture of us in our house.  Looks like there’s a party up in here, up in here! Word to DMX! What do you mean, who’s DMX?

Anyway, what are you doing?

Playing basketball? Cool.

Where am I going?

To play basketball? Yikes. The party must have been pretty lame.

You wrote a note, too? Aww, how sweet!

 

Fathers day gift ideas 2020

“Mom makes me happy. You make a great mom.”

 

Well, that’s a lovely thing to say about Mommy. I really was hoping, since its Father’s Day and all, that the note would have been for me, though….

Hey, is someone cutting onions? My eyes are starting to water.

Oh, you did make me one, too!

Thanks, B! I can’t wait to see it!

 

20160620_221006

 

Whoa. What did you try to say here?

“Shake your booty booty booty booty in daddy’s face. I hope you had a stinking Father’s Day.”

 

Son of a B!

WTF, dude. Stop giggling! Butts in the face are NOT a laughing matter.

Well this didn’t go as planned. As usual.

Time to wrap it up.

B, go to your room.

J, come listen to the rest of my acceptance speech for my World’s Greatest Dad award.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all. Hopefully this has been a useful in giving you some Fathers day gift ideas in 2020.

 

fathers day gift ideas 2020

Super Dad? Thanks, B!

The New Normal

 

We are currently living through extraordinary, catastrophic times, man. Not only that, but one of the worst parts about this COVID-19 novel coronavirus story is that we don’t know the ending.  Will it be happy, like the end of the TV show Friends? Or will it be disappointingly infuriating, like the end of the TV show Dexter? Who knows, dude. Until then, all that we can do is cross our fingers, and adjust our lives around the terms that have become part of our vernacular lately. Self-isolation. Self-quarantine. #stayhome.  Social distancing. Flatten the curve. The new normal.

The new normal.

Like you, my family’s daily routines have been completely overhauled, in our attempts to ride this out and not get sick.  How’s that you going, you ask?  Well……

 

ARTIST’S RENDITION

In the economic game of musical chairs, I currently am still working at my day job,  but just from home.  Because of societal musical chairs, public gatherings of five people or more are currently prohibited in Ontario.  As such, the kids and K (who’s a teacher) are also home.  And, in all honesty, it’s all good. Doom and gloom aside, it’s nice to hang out with the fam more.

With nowhere to go, it’s led to creative ways to entertain ourselves.  There’s an increase in puzzles, board games, instrument learning and streaming services in our house.  J is taking to making pictures of me, for unknown reasons, too  Here’s a painting that she drew, of yours truly:

 

I asked her why I’m yellow, and she said that it was because she didn’t have any brown.

 

Hue problem aside, it’s not bad. Unlike this one, though:

 

the new normal

 

She discreetly took a picture of me, to make a Nintendo “Mii”.  Yes, I realize that my Mii resembles a digital, pink-lipped Sherman Helmsley. And yes, I realize that I look like Keenan Thompson from Saturday Night Live in the picture.

 

YOU WISHED THAT YOU LOOKED THIS GOOD, MIKE!

Sorry, Keenan.

 

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

 

I’ve talked on here before about the continued development of little KJ. With his daycare closed, he’s home, and makes frequent visits to my workspace during the day.  Sometimes, it’s just to chit chat about whatever is on his three year old mind. We’ve discussed career ambitions (“Daddy! When my grow up, my want to be a butterfly!”), dietary habits (“Daddy, if my eat carrots, I’ll be bigger!” *eats carrots* “See, mine this big now”  *holds arms out as wide as he can*), and family history (“Daddy! When my brudder and sister were in my mommy’s tummy, my was older, too. My wasn’t scared!”).

Sometimes,  he requires my assistance. For instance, he dictated a story to me once, and had me draw it out for him:

 

The Joker. What a jerk.

 

And sometimes, he just wants to chill out with me:

 

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work at home with kids….it’s this.

 

game over

With B being our oldest, he gets what’s going on the most. He’s been the most affected by it, as well. His life, like many 10 year olds, revolves around sports, school, and video games. Two of those three have been removed from the equation.  As a result, he has leaned heavily into his one remaining old normal avenue, in these times of the new normal.

For real, I don’t mind the gaming. If he can’t physically talk to, and play with, his buddies, doing so virtually is better than nothing. The problem is trying to get him off to do something else…..when there isn’t much else to do.  Many a time of me yelling at him to go outside, for some exercise, is usually met with “BUT I’M PLAYING WITH MY FRIENDS!”.

If B had his way, he would probably disappear into the basement at the break of dawn, play games all day, and emerge at night, red-eyed, with a five o’ clock shadow. OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea.

 

you gon’ learn today!

 

It’s not all fun and games. K and I have been doing some homeschooling, and (more recently since the curriculum was just launched in Ontario as of this writing) online learning, as well.  It’s…..going.  I’d like to say that, with so much free time, B and J are eager, model students,  thirsty for knowledge from bottomless learning cups provided by their parents.

I’d also like to say that my dad bod stomach has turned into a six pack.

Neither of these statements are true.

 

i spy

 

 

Remember that episode of The Simpsons, where Bart breaks his leg, and, while recovering in his bedroom, starts to get the wrong idea that his neighbour was a murderer?  I’m not saying my neighbours are killers, don’t get it twisted. However, my workspace is by a window,  which leads to occasionally peeking out of it.  There’s such a monotony of joggers, family bike rides and dog walkers passing by during the day, that anything else has my mind playin’ tricks on me.

A Purolator truck with a big package?  Exciting! I wonder what they ordered!

A husband leaves his home, then hours later, another man in a van pulls up, and goes into the house with a toolbox. Service call by the wife? Or something else? Ooooooh, scandalous!!!

Shoot, my one neighbour wasn’t quick on picking up their bins on garbage day, and I was seriously considering contacting the police about a house call, to see if they were alright.

The old me wouldn’t have noticed any of this stuff.  Why does the new normal involve me being a nosy neighbour?!

 

 the ish

I know what you’re thinking.

“But Mike, what about your family’s toilet paper situation?”

OK, you probably weren’t thinking that, but the answer is…….we good.

See,  being on the outskirts of Hamilton means everything is a drive. Let’s say that I need to pick up some toilet paper, eggs and milk. My options that are up to a 20ish minute trip away include Freshco (x3), Fortinos (x2), Walmart (x2), Costco (x2), Real Canadian Superstore, Food Basics, No Frills (x2), Lococo’s, Zarky’s, Sobey’s, Metro, Shopper’s Drug Mart (x too many to count), and Foodland.  Plus, Amazon Prime has a program where they will send you the same products every month recurring…..and we’re signed up for that, to receive toilet paper.

Hoarders be hoarding, cool. But in our case, with so many options at our disposal, we have been able to get by fine, so far. Just don’t get any ideas about stealing my limited supply, though, please, if the hoarders turn out to be right.

Y’all dancing on TikTok to combat boredom, while I’m taking tough guy selfies with a chain to combat would-be TP thieves. We’ll see who wipes, I mean, laughs, last!

 

 

The old normal seems like a distant memory already. We have gone from looking at Wuhan, and thinking that there’s no way what happened there could happen here,  to looking at the new normal and thinking if what used to happen here will ever happen again.  Stay safe and smart, folks.

Until the next one, peace!

The Pull – Dad 2.0 Summit

dad 2.0 summit

 

 

The first time that I attended a Dad 2.0 Summit, 2017 in San Diego, I wrote about ‘the push’ of going to it. I recently went to my second Dad 2.0 Summit, in Washington, D.C.  This time, I would describe the experience as more of a pull, than a push.

For the uninformed, the Dad 2.0 Summit, per their own words, is  an open conversation about the commercial power of dads online, and an opportunity to learn the tools and tactics used by influential bloggers to create high-quality content, build personal brands, and develop business ideas.  Since I started blogging way back in 2013 (!!), I’ve watched, mostly from afar with a keen eye, this annual conference grow and evolve.

In 2017, I was fortunate enough to be given an Oren Miller Scholarship, to help offset some of the travel costs, as well as being selected to be a featured Porchlight Post reader. Both of these spells of good luck pushed me into attending, where I then spent most of my time at the conference feeling overwhelmed and nervous. Looking back, I regretted not soaking in more of what was presented. I did still somehow walk out of there with a newfound sense of excitement in myself, this whole Daddy Realness thing, and my parenting abilities. It was as if my imaginary cup was full. Full of hope, knowledge, opportunity, connections and pride.

Several unattended Summits later, I realized that I missed that feeling. It was as if my cup was empty.  As such, this urge to refill it, as well as having a better game plan to take advantage of the Summit’s offerings, is what pulled me into going to Washington for three days. Well, two and a half days actually, by the time that I got to the venue (The Mandarin Oriental Hotel), because of numerous flight cancellations and delays, but you get the idea.

 

washington library of congress

Delays or not, you still have to find time to do some sightseeing!

 

 

While Dad 2.0 has evolved, one thing that remains the same is that it really brings together the dad blogger/content creator/inlfluencer community. I think that the main appeal for many attendees is being able to reconnect in person with their online friends once a year.  People who aren’t into the scene as much anymore, because their kids are older, still come to see their buddies, for example.

While I am a part of the community….I’m a small, not very vocal part. Also, the conference ran Thursday-Saturday, with the Thursday mostly being a day for networking, especially for new attendees; I was only there Friday afternoon-Sunday.  I immediately felt a bit like an outsider.

I don’t say this to scare you off from attending, or to make you pity da fool. I did find a roommate (which I highly recommend doing, if you go), and we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a suite at the Mandarin Oriental. A luxury suite in a luxury hotel is as fancy as you’re probably imagining it to be, trust me.

 

 

Mandarin Oriental Washington DC

If you’ve ever wondered what the lap of luxury looks like…it’s this.

 

 

Also, the community is very open and accepting. Lack of photo evidence aside, I did hang out with LOTS of cool, fascinating people. From dads just starting out their blogs, to dads with blue checks next to their names on social media. From men and women without blogs, to YouTubers with hundreds of thousands of followers. From podcasters looking to take things to the next level, to next level, esteemed, award-winning writers.  My best example of this acceptance was on Friday night. While walking around by myself looking for a cash bar (long story), I stumbled upon a group of Jewish attendees celebrating the start of Shabbat, and remembering the late, beloved dad blogger Oren Miller with prayer. Instead of telling me to leave, they explained what was going on, and invited me to stay, which I happily did.

This meetup took place before Dad Voices, a popular event where people read a piece of their work before an appreciate audience. I read one  of my typical irreverent posts. Some guys chose to go the funny route. A lot of guys, though, read personal, vulnerable ones. Laughs were shared, but more tears were shed. Between that, and the earlier Shabbat celebration, it was an emotional night, to say the least.

Besides the bonding,  Dad 2.0 is also about the bizness, with lots of opportunities provided to listen to, and engage in, all facets of it. I tried to soak in as much information as I could, as it really was invaluable. There were many workshops, sessions, and speakers covering stuff like the numerous technical sides of blogging, improving brand relationships, and coping with substance abuse.  One of the most well-received featured speakers this year, Donte Palmer, discussed how an incident where he had to squat in a men’s washroom to change his child’s diaper went viral, and led to him creating the Squat For Change initiative.  It’s crazy that one day, you’re just a regular dude struggling with a diaper, and the next day, you’re breaking down all kinds of barriers, leading a nationwide movement!

 

dad 2.0 summit

 

 

Along those lines, several of the brands in attendance were also looking for “dadvocates” to help lead their own movements, like Dove Men + Care advocating paid paternity leave, and Responsibility.Org striving to eliminate drunk driving. I remember, years ago, the Dad 2.0 folks were highly motivated in trying to change the bumbling/absentee father stereotypes often seen in the media. While there is still work to be done on that front, it’s cool to see the shift in the thinking to issues on a grander scale.

At the closing reception, the founders of Dad 2.0 announced that they would be holding smaller, frequent, more focused gatherings in the future, starting with  Los Angeles in October. I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll be pulled into attending one of these again. I do know that, as I walked out of the Mandarin Oriental Sunday morning to start my journey home, my cup wasn’t just full.

It was overflowing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three’s Company

 

 

Today’s post is brought to you by the number three. You see, three is a big time number in our house, especially recently, as our third child, KJ, recently turned three years old! Since having a third child, we have been regularly asked three questions:

  1. You have three kids?! This is always asked in a shocked voice,  by anyone who has less than three children.
  2. When are you having more?  In my head, I follow up by  giving the person a crisp slap to the face, for asking such a bananas question. In reality, I just laugh it off.
  3. So who is the third kid most like?

Now this. This is a thinker. As KJ entered into the threes, he really has developed his own  personality, to say the least. For example:

 

CLOTHING OPTIONAL

Despite not living at a nudist resort, or coming from a family of exhibitionists,  KJ loves to not wear any clothes.  On a typical evening, I’ll come home from work, and find him in nothing but a diaper, looking like Mowgli from The Jungle Book.

You might be thinking “But that’s cute, Mike. What’s the big deal?”. And sometimes, it is cute. Conversely, sometimes, when I’m trying to get him ready to go to daycare in the morning, and he’s refusing to get dressed, it’s not so cute. There are some things that you just can’t force someone to do.  As a fun family game tonight, ask your kids to put a shirt and a pair of pants on you, but make this as humanly difficult as possible on them. You’d be surprised at the number of ways that there are to accomplish this.  You’ll win every time! Anyway, I’ve loaded KJ’s diaper-only clad butt in my car on more than one occasion (because he wins every time). That, my dudes, ain’t so cute.

This happened, too, not long ago:

 

 

That right there is KJ standing shoeless on a busy winter afternoon in downtown Toronto. If you’ve never done this before….I don’t recommend it.

 

enunciation IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

 

KJ’s vocab game is ever-improving. His pronunciation and sentence-making skills are coming along, too. He still has his moments, though. For instance, I took him with me to J’s basketball recently, and we had this conversation while sitting on the sidelines:

KJ – You made me crap!

Me (looking around nervously, to see if anyone else heard) – What did I do?!

KJ  (louder) – You made me crap! With your legs!

Me (stunned silence)

KJ – Crap me with your legs! Now!

At this point, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I just sat there with my legs spread. He then crawled between them, and pulled them together, so they were closed around him.

KJ – See? Crap!

I then realized that he meant to say trap.  No bowel-moving maneuvers needed.

 

FICKLE, FICKLE, FICKLE!

 

When KJ is unhappy, we understand him loud and clear, because he will articulate his feelings loudly and clearly.  In his little world, the most petty things tick him off.  He’ll look at me pouting, and say “Dad, I’m so mad at you.” The reasons for the rage have ranged from understandable ones, like he didn’t want to stop watching his tablet, to irrational ones, like he didn’t love the voices that I made for the toys we were playing with, or he wanted two ice cubes in his sippy cup, but I only gave him one.

 

 

A CAREER IN COMEDY DOESN’T SEEM PROMISING

 

KJ – Knock knock.

Me – Who’s there?

KJ –  My dad is so nice!

Me – My dad is so nice who?

KJ – My dad is so nice because he is nice.

And that was the joke.

*crickets*

He also thinks it’s hilarious to pinch my nose and ask if I’m Batman.

 

*tumbleweed blows by*

 

OK. This is pretty funny. When’s the next open mic night?

 

how rude!

 

KJ’s perception of me has changed as he’s entered into the threes, as well.  For some reason, he thinks our bedroom closet is my “room”, as if I go there every night, and curl up on a shelf to sleep, snuggled up in Drake shirts, with In My Feelings as my lullaby.

Furthermore,  before, he thought this WWE action figure was me:

 

 

Professional wrestler Shelton Benjamin. Big, strong, muscular, handsome. I’ll take it!

Lately, though, he has called me this:

 

A half completed, goofy Mr. Potato Head?!  I’m a bit of a hesi-tater when it comes to an una-peel-ing comparison!

 

 

This:

 

A broken, ancient toy car? I’m not as young or as fast as I used to be, but c’mon!

 

And this:

 

If I were a firefighter, it wouldn’t be so bad. However, I am not. When I told this to J, she asked if I liked black shoes (sure?) and flashlights (I guess?). She then shrugged and said “close enough”.

 

So who is KJ most alike in our family? The answer can be summed up in three words:

“Uh, no one.”

 

And with that, this post is a wrap. Triples!

Wait, I mean deuces!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stone Cold Truth About Hot Air Balloon Rides

hot air balloon ride

 

 

Greetings, fly guys and fly girls! If you ever considered going on a hot air balloon ride, but don’t know what you’re getting into, then you’ve come to the right spot.  Last summer, my daughter and I took flight in a hot air balloon, compliments of my friends at the US Hot Air Balloon Team. Boy, let me tell me you, the experience was something else! And as a certified balloonatic (OK, not really), I figure that gives me enough credibility (this is probably wrong, too)  to debunk myths and spit hot truths about  hot air balloon rides.

 

 

YOU CAN’T GO ON A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE ANYTIME OF THE DAY

 

Ever notice that you’ve never looked up in sky during lunchtime in the summer, and seen a hot air balloon floating by? Me neither, but there is a reason for that.  A hot air balloon ride is very susceptible to weather, and can only fly in the most stable of  conditions. For scientific and technical reasons beyond my pay grade, this happens to be before dawn or occasionally at dusk.

For J and I, this meant taking a 45 minute long Uber ride at 4:30AM from our hotel to the heart of Amish country in Pennsylvania, Bird In Hand. We had to arrive by 5:30AM, at the US Hot Air Balloon Team’s headquarters. If you’ve ever wanted to wake roosters up, instead of vice versa, I highly recommend taking early morning hot air balloon rides. Also, to give you an idea of the high volatility/subjectivity of ballooning, ours was a shared flight, with two long-time friends, and an older couple. This was the older couple’s sixth attempt at trying to take a hot air balloon ride, as every other time that they tried, it ended up being cancelled because of the weather. Talk about your hardcore balloonatics!

 

 

THE CHASE

Unlike an airplane, hot air balloons do not need an airport to depart from. After we arrived at the headquarters, we were then transported via white van to the launch point, which was just an open field. The van’s driver and navigator also doubled as set up and take down crew. Most interesting, though, is that the van was a chase vehicle. While in the air, the van followed the balloon around, until it landed.  Watching this lonely white vehicle on the empty roads from high in the sky,  kind of made me feel like a journalist in a chopper following OJ Simpson’s Bronco. Kind of.

 

 

up,  up, and…..in?

 

At the launch point,  the crew setup the hot air balloon, which was much larger in person (like, small building-sized) and inflate it. I then realized that the basket, which was also larger in person (the size of a small car, and about chest level high) didn’t have a door. So how the heck do you get in it, you ask?

The answer is….not delicately.

The older couple weren’t especially agile, for lack of a better term, especially the wife. They thought that the basket would be on its side, and that they would get in, sit on the bottom, and wait for the inflated balloon to  pull it upright.

This wasn’t the case, though.

The crew are there to assist, but for the most part, you’re on your own, to enter the basket. In the couple’s case, the crew gently helped lift the wife up, and over, the edge of it. In the husband’s case, he climbed in on his own, with some struggle. When it came to J’s case, I gave her a boost and dropped her in, since the basket was too high for her to climb  on her own. In my case, I tried to clear the edge by leaping over it, like how this guy jumped over the wrestling ropes. Spoiler alert: my leap was U-G-L-Y, and I ain’t got no alibi:

 

 

 

 

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

 

Once you’re in, there is nowhere to go but up. For real, when in flight, the experience of hot air balloon rides is as breathtaking as you probably imagine it to be. Our US Hot Air Balloon ride was over miles of farmland in Amish country.  Picturesque views of the Pennsylvania landscape stretched as far as the eye could see.  The world seems so different when you’re gliding through the sky, thousands of feet in the air. Surprisingly, it was very quiet. Besides the chit chat of those on board, the only sound was the hissing of the burners. At one point, we could hear dogs barking below!

 

hot air balloon ride experience

 

BE PREPARED FOR A CRASH LANDING

 

Unlike planes, hot air balloons don’t just land on a runway. In our case, the pilots pointed out a spot in an open field that looked land-able, called down to the chase vehicle to see if it was OK or not, and after receiving affirmation, started the descent. They actually missed the spot, then had to re-ascend, and get the chase vehicle to confirm another location.

Unlike planes, hot air balloons don’t have wheels, to roll into a gentle landing. They literally just crash into the ground. Now depending on how skilled your pilot is, the crash landing varies in gentleness. In our case, it knocked me off of my feet (word to Stevie Wonder!), because I didn’t have time to brace myself, and J  went tumbling into the side of the basket.

This was considered a good landing.

 

 

So….crash, and dash?

 

Once on the ground, you don’t just leave the balloon, and take off in the chase vehicle. Everything needs to be packed up, too. One of the dudes in the crew was jacked (re: very muscular), and he had the job of doing most of the heavy lifting (fun fact: a deflated hot air balloon still weighs a lot).  I tried to help where I could, as well, though. We happened to be in an Amish family’s farm, so they all came out, too see what all the commotion was. I’m sure the scene was quite the culture shock to them! Once the van was loaded up, we headed back to the headquarters, where we celebrated our save travels with the traditional balloonist champagne toast. J had orange juice, by the way, so stop wagging your fingers, people.

 

 

ARE HOT AIR BALLOONS RIDES SAFE?

 

Aww, the proverbial elephant in the room, err, post.  Are hot air balloons safe?

The answer is….I think so? I mean, it is a pretty outdated mode of transportation.  When you’re planning a trip on Google Maps, a balloon is never an option for the fastest way there. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment now, based on skills and techniques developed over centuries of balloon aviation.

Whereas, for example, people a long time ago stopped riding those bikes with the giant wheels, because of how dangerous they were, ballooning remains a popular past time today. If they weren’t suitable, they wouldn’t still be a “thing”, right? The accident rates online seem to support hot air balloons as being fairly safe, too.

J couldn’t peak over the edge unless I lifted her up, so there was no concern of the basket rocking, if that’s what you’re thinking (or at least that’s what I was thinking, after watching that episode of Family Matters recently, where Steve Urkel and Carl go up in a hot air balloon, and that’s what happens to Carl). The basket’s floor was sturdy, too. So, to me, as someone who is pretty cautious, somewhat afraid of heights, and flying with a child, I didn’t feel like we were in any real danger….except during the landing, as mentioned.

All in all, hot air balloon rides, while not for everyone, are a really cool experience.  I’d recommend them anyone looking to book a flight with their kids, if they’re up for it.

Until the next one, you balloonatics,  peace!

 

are hot air balloons safe

 

 

 

Disclaimer: we received a complimentary flight from US Hot Air Balloon Team while on a press trip in Hershey, PA. All opinions expressed are mine, as always.

 

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