A 360 degree panoramic of our campsite at Balsam Lake Provincial Park last May 2010.

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Perfect gifts for the kids

Kids doing a total fail on a rope swing.

You've all heard the story of the child that gets the expensive Christmas gift and then spends the whole day playing with the box? My kids, my son in particular have taken this phenomenon to the extreme. Both my kids have a thing for empty tissue boxes, and my son is nuts over empty toilet paper tubes. I don't think a toilet paper tube has ever left our house. The boy has boxes of them and calls them his toobz''. He draws figures and characters on them and then situates them into scenes and situations that make think that maybe I shouldn't have let him watch those zombie movies with me when he was two and three: "Dad, this tube has chopped off the head of this tube and this tube's wife and daughter are crying about it..."

A few years ago, I spent over $200 at Home Depot on this fiberglass rock wall that attached to the kids play structure in the backyard. It looks like a pile of rocks. It was a bit of a sting price-wise, but there was only one left and standing there in the store I imagined my children climbing over it, under it, and through it, awarding time to other neighbourhood children, lording it over the other kids, and waving at me warmly as Hollywood family flashback music played from some unspecified source. I saw the children mouthing the words, "we love you dad!" so I could make out what they were saying through the glass of the closed livingroom window as my hot supermodel wife served me drinks in the Jacuzzi...my mind does tend to drift a little.

Anyway, getting this monstrosity home was a bit of a pain. It was an unusual shape and simply did not fit in the van. In the end I tied it with the Home Depot supplied string to the top of the van, sort of like a huge sail, and then set out to sail the Chrysler Santa Maria the 30 minutes back to my house.

Upon arriving home, the kids were full of curiosity with a lot of "What's that, dad?" and "Is that for us?" and as I leaned it up on the side on the house, they both started climbing up on it and I yelled at them that the instructions clearly state that children should not climb on it until the internal support braces are fitted, can't they understand that?

Then the bloody rock wall sat against the side of the house for two weeks until I got the energy to finally attach it to the play structure. The kids did a perfunctory circuit up and down the thing one time and then never looked at it again. As it was situated under a maple tree, wet leaves would fall on it and stick to it, and if left there would begin to decompose on it, staining it. I couldn't have a pile of fiberglass rocks stained with leaves so for the first season I wasted a good portion of Canada's limited fresh water supply washing off the fiberglass rock wall, then after a couple of months of that, gave up. That thing may have been light, but it was a pain on the ass and yet another constant reminder of my failings as a father, consumer, and a maintainer of properties.

It was a classic example of buying something that I imagine that I would have liked to have had when I was a kid. And I applied my adult perspective to the purchase, revealing that I actually have no clue as to what the kids really want. For example, my kids could care less if it costs $2 or $200. The difficulty getting it home similarly also does not impress them. Children are wonderfully utilitarian in this regard.

Now, contrast what is now known as the the fiberglass rock wall fiasco of 2005-2006 to a situation that occurred when we moved into our new house in Podunk, Ontario. The previous owners had left an old fraying yellow nylon rope hanging from a tree in the front yard. The rope had knots every 18 inches or so, and it was inexpertly and cruelly tied around the branch overhead in such a way that the rope would not expand to accomodate the growing tree branch that it was tied around.

First Ellie, then Nik took tentative turns trying out swinging on the rope, both of them possessing an innate ability for rope swinging that is apparently built into children. Within a week the kids were swinging on the thing like Tarzan. Nik in particular devised more different rope swinging techniques than I ever thought possible. He was spending 60 minutes per day on the rope. His hands were raw with little yellow nylon splinters in them. Finally, I went to the store and purchased some nice, thicker diameter and softer rope that would not splinter and fixed it with a slip knot to the over head branch so it would expand as the branch did. Because this rope was thicker, smoother and nicer than the original frayed and rotting rope, the kids very nearly rejected it as they had rejected the rock wall earlier, but in the end the joy of rope swinging won out and they increased their rope time, if anything. Total cost for the rope: $6.

So in summary, for $6, those two kids and as well as many of the neighbourhood kids have enjoyed countless hours of entertainment, and the $200 rock wall has given them exactly none. There is a lesson in there somewhere, but as is usual with most adults I'm sure, I 'm having a difficult time finding it.

Funny enough, the rope lies at the eastern end of the property at the front of the house. On the western side just a few short meters away is another tree, this one with a tire swing hanging from it. Like the rock wall, the tire swing gets absolutely no love from the children. I've asked Ellie, "Why don't you ever use the tire swing?" And I listened carefully to her answer so as to get some insight as to the fickle nature of children. Ellie said, "Well Dad, the branch that the tree is tied to is too springy, I'm always worried it's going to break when I swing" and me being the moronic dad I am/was sealed the deal by unthinkingly saying, "Oh I see. Yeah, you're right, if that branch came down on your head, the result would be truly tragic, and that's if you even survived." ...which pretty much ensured that the kids never again went near the tree, let alone the tire swing. Now at this point, I'm pretty sure I could relocate that swing to a beefier branch and maybe even replace the rope and the tire, improving it and costing me a fair bit of time and money, but I have a feeling that I would get as similar a reward for the tire swing as I got for the rock wall.

Perfect gifts for the kids

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Maybe read No Big Deal, a story I consider to be the very best thing I ever wrote.