Every weekend, we try to spend quality time, as a family, engaged in Wholesome Activities. We try to find educational activities he’ll enjoy, or physical activities we can do as a family. And usually, we can find a couple things to do each weekend that give us that quality family time; Mama, Dada, Ben. Our general goal is to (a) spend time together as a family and (b) wear that kid out so he will take a nap and go to sleep at night.
This Saturday, I woke up to find a marine layer over Southern California. I love misty days here, when it’s cooler, damper, and more like the climate I grew up with. Also, the San Gabriel Mountains look like the North Shore with low cloud cover. Immediately, I suggested to Paul that we go outside and enjoy this lovely weather by taking Ben hiking. Los Angeles is actually a really hiking-intense city, even more so than Vancouver, because of all the trails in the hills and mountain parks that surround the city. Unfortunately, everyone always seems to be trying to hike those trails at once, which means crowded trails, impossible parking, and a wilderness experience that feels more like a poorly kept city park. We usually try to avoid this by going out to the SGV, and going hiking in one of the parks that connects to the Angeles National Forest up there. Our favorite, by far, is Eaton Canyon Park, out in Altadena, past Pasadena – like everything else, a 30 minute drive away.
We’ve been to Eaton Canyon a few times now, and it meets all our criteria for Family Hiking. There’s a minimal incline in most parts of the park, which is great for someone’s short little legs. The trail is well-kept and clear, again, great for someone who’s used to paved streets and sidewalks. There’s tons of animal and birds to observe. And there’s even a well-kept, fairly extensive, nature center and botanical garden, where the local flora and fauna have been carefully curated and organized and labeled. This includes Ben’s favorite part of the park, the WALL’O’SNAKES…a wall of terrariums with local live snakes in them, including examples of the poisonous ones.
This Saturday, after some poking around in the Nature Center, and some wandering on the tiny trail of the Botanical Garden / Toddler Trail, we set off to hike across the dry wash and up the trail fork of “Moist Canyon”. We walked up the canyon for about twenty minutes, stopping to observe animals that neither Paul nor I could name, beyond “hey, look at all the birds!” or, “listen to the woodpecker”, or “look, a snake on a rock!” (small, non-venomous). Eventually though, Ben informed us his legs were tired and we decided to hike back down. By the time we walked the ten minutes back to the dry wash, Ben was insisting on being picked up:
And then, after all that hiking, he decided to take a nap on Paul’s shoulder. Did I mention the kid weighed in at 36 pounds last week?
After the hike, we came home to make one of Ben’s favorite foods: tofu tacos. Ben, being an LA baby, is used to being able to get food truck snacks. Since he loves tofu, one of his favorites is a tofu taco. Seriously, he’ll take tofu over anything else – chicken, beef, fish – as a taco filler. I just toss some tofu chunks in a mix of soy sauce and Sriacha, pan-sear them, and put them on a tortilla with some cheese and salsa. It’s toddler fusion food! But with all the hiking and lunch, Ben didn’t go down for his nap until after 3…and he didn’t wake up until almost 5, which left us in a zone of being Too Late for an afternoon activity, but too early to eat dinner. Quick, someone find a filler activity!
Then it occurred to me, why not watch Dancing with the Stars with my son? Seriously, even he can get the concept. Famous people learn to dance with professional dancers, and the worst person gets kicked off. Yay. Ben likes seeing dancing, he loves music – sure, it’s completely devoid of educational value, and is the entertainment equivalent of feeding my kid a Lunchable, but it was Saturday! So I checked with Paul to be sure it was OK, and then Ben and I watched an abbreviated version of the season premiere, where we fast-forwarded through everything except the practicing (“see? look how hard they’re working!”) and the actual dances (“look how much they practiced!”)
Sure enough, Ben freaking LOVED DWTS. Every time a couple started dancing, he would tell me, “Look, Mama! They’re dancing!” We would watch people’s feet to see how they were doing, and I tried to explain to Ben that the professionals had practiced for a LONG LONG TIME, but the famous people were just learning, and Why Practice Is Important. Then, for the Results Show, I skipped the first 40 minutes of it, and just ran the last three minutes where the decision was made. We talked about how Not Everyone Is Good At Everything, Including Dancing, So Someone Has To Get Kicked Off. Look, I’m trying to redeem myself as a mom here, letting my kid watch reality TV…but honestly, he likes choreography and he likes music and maybe it’s only the entertainment equivalent of one of those Lunchables with reduced sodium and a fruit cup?
And then we get to today, when Ben asked if he could watch TV. We agreed this was OK, and I asked him what he wanted to watch, expecting Thomas, or Dinosaur Train, or something. Nope. I got, “I want to watch Dancing With The Stars, Mama!”
“But Ben, we watched that show yesterday. We saw all the dances. There isn’t a new episode yet.”
“But I want to see who gets kicked off,” he told me.
I snorted with laughter, and went looking for a family movie instead. We ended up watching Free Willy, which I actually never saw…even though it’s probably partially inspired by the gong show that was Sealand of the Pacific, the marine park across the street from where I grew up. Hey, we saw Dolphin Tale Friday, why not a movie about another special Troubled Youth and Marine Mammal bond? Besides, movies are a Special Treat for Ben on the weekends – on weekdays, he’s limited to thirty minutes or less of educational programming. On weekends, we let him watch movies, which he loves, and we just try to curate to make sure there’s some sort of Discussion Topic we can get out of it. (I’m sure we’ll spend this week talking about dolphins and orcas, and doing Related Art Projects. I’ll have to find and print pictures of marine creatures tomorrow for a collage)
But earlier today, we took Ben bowling for the first time. I found a bowling alley up in Glendale that had bumpers. PROGRAMMABLE bumpers, even: they only showed up when it was Ben’s turn! Jewel City Bowl even had shoes IN BEN’S SIZE. Ben also got their special six-pound ball, which he had to roll, because his hands were too little to hold it. He absolutely LOVED it though, and cheered and grinned the whole game. I’ve got photos and videos we’ll have to put up this week, because a three year old bowling is freaking ADORABLE. It also gave us a new family activity, something Ben can do with us, and probably with our friends and extended family as well. Bowling is a super-social activity, and having Ben be able to play it gives him a new way to spend time with grown-ups. Next weekend, we’ll have to try mini-golf.