Pet Park in Peril

 

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Only chicken wire and wood separate the canines from the under-nines

In what is set to be the battle of the ages, dog owners along Toronto’s Beaches boardwalk are up in arms over an invasion that has them frightened for the safety of their four-legged family members.

A new disease-bearing tick?

Someone leaving poisoned treats?

Marauding coyotes looking for a snack?

Nothing so mundane.

Instead, pet parents are angry that the dog park at the foot of Lee Avenue has been invaded by terrors of the bipedal kind as parents throughout the area have literally unleashed their children within the wood beam and chicken wire compound.

“It’s just not fair,” cries local Peke-a-poo owner Jolene Carpenter. “They have a wooden fortress and wading pool right there in Kew Gardens, and full playgrounds at either end of the boardwalk.”

“How would they like it if we turned their sandboxes into litter boxes?” adds Henry Ratsburg, collie-enthusiast and former cat owner.

As though proving their point, the fence bordering the dog park resembles a sand-covered drive-in as strollers of all sizes, colours and designs sit parked along the fence. Meanwhile, their parental owners relax at the nearby ice cream bar and coffee shop, chatting with other parents while their children run amok beyond the gates.

“I really don’t understand the fuss,” chimes Cyndy Jacobson, mother of two. “My kids need a safe place to run around, and this is the only designated off-leash section of the beach.”

baby_boy_on_leash

Docile when leashed but muscles braced for freedom

Ironically, the dog park, which is actually comprised of an open sandy section and a larger shrub-laden section, was established by the City of Toronto several years ago after many parents in the area complained about dogs littering their waterfront fun.

“It was a total mess out there,” remembers long-time Beaches resident Jackson Brink. “At best, people would just bury the dog droppings in the sand, but it doesn’t take long on a hot summer’s day to realize you’ve parked your beach towel on a fermenting pile left by a mastiff or Great Dane.”

Play time

Frolicking in the sand or burying the evidence?

The park’s transition from canine to kiddie has been a slow but inexorable one that started with delayed summer temperatures last year and parents’ worries about letting their children play in the frigid surf. One by one, as stressed parents discovered the relative calm of the dog park, they began to release their children into its confines.

“The first few actually showed up with both kids and dogs in tow, but they didn’t fool us,” says Carpenter. “Within minutes, you’d see them skulk out of the park with their dogs, the kids nowhere to be found.”

Several residents have demanded the City step in, if only to deal with the potential health and safety risks.

“They bite; they scratch; they’re full of germs. I just don’t feel that my babies are safe in there,” complains Ratsburg, anxiously stroking the fur of his tri-colour collies.

Rebel lake

Ratsburg and friend in better days

Nobody from the City of Toronto was willing to go on the record, but one unnamed source suggests there is little the City can do given the way current bylaws are written.

“All we can do is caution people to make sure their little ones have all their shots and don’t get trampled,” the source suggests. “Residents with children might want to do the same.”

Hamlet…A Puppet Epic! at Toronto Fringe (a review)

Zip & Shakes make Hamlet approachable for kids

Zip & Shakes make Hamlet approachable for kids

Your dad just died. Your mom married your uncle, who stole your crown. Your girlfriend went bonkers. And your best friends are trying to kill you.

You thought being an 8-year-old was tough.

Who in their right minds would try to turn Shakespeare’s Hamlet into a puppet show for kids? Shakey-Shake and Friends would, offering  Hamlet…A Puppet Epic! at Toronto FringeKids! 2015.

Before you even step into the theatre, you know that the producers understand the challenge they’ve set for themselves.

“We’re doing the whole thing (deaths and all), but in a light-hearted way,” reads a sign outside the theatre. “Everyone who dies gets a very silly ghost sheet and continue to comment on the action! (It’s not too scary.)”

And as far as I’m concerned, they deliver on their promise. From the moment the lights come up to the second they finally drop, the puppeteers put everything they have into entertaining their audience.

Whether it’s one of the characters, or the erstwhile hosts Shakes and Zip (pictured above), somebody always steps forward to help the kids understand what’s going on. And they do it without ever coming across as teacher-y, or at least, not for very long without a heavy dose of silliness hard on its heels.

What does the “to be or not to be” speech mean? Why does Hamlet’s mom not clue in to what’s going on? It’s all explained, gently and sweetly, to the kids without ever being condescending.

And nicely, the cast knows that their audience extends well beyond the 6- to 10-year-olds. Throughout the play, there are jokes for all ages and references from popular events and news items from last week, last year and last century.

This appears to be a very good decision, because about 85% of the capacity premiere crowd was well beyond puberty.

Having spent some time as a puppeteer, I didn’t think the puppetry technique was particularly solid, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one who cared. It didn’t seem to stop the wall-to-wall smiles and laughter that held the audience from start to finish.

I thought all of the performances were quite strong, but the show was absolutely stolen—if laughter volume is any indication—by Shakes/Polonius. Even in death, this character managed laughs that literally stopped the show.

Hamlet…A Puppet Epic! is easily the most entertaining hour I have spent in years.

[Review first appeared in Mooney on Theatre.]

Kid Lit publisher/illustrator needed

Looking for recommendations for a Kid Lit publisher for a new story I have written but do not yet have illustrated. Story is aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds.

Alternatively, looking for an illustrator who is used to working for no cash and can work with me on this to find a publisher.

In my head, the imagery for the story could be along the lines of any of the books in the image below, but I am open to other styles as well…this is just what resonates in my head.

In my head, these styles could work with my story, but remaining open to other ideas!

In my head, these styles could work with my story, but remaining open to other ideas!

Ultimately, I will go to the usual sources for these types of things, but thought I would check with my loving, supportive and talented social network to lend a hand, an ear, an eye…whatever you’ve got, really.

Any recommendations or thoughts, Universe?

Feel free to DM me…happy to share the story with people….thanks…Randy

For my friends who are parents

lynch

Ding Dong! The kid’s at school!

Oh, so cool that it’s a rule.

Ding Dong! The little shit’s in school.

Wake up, tiny fool.

Rub your eyes, finish your gruel.

Wake up, you snarky brat, there’s school.

Summer’s done, it’s time to go,

Grab your books before it snows,

Move your ass before the school bell tolls.

Ding Dong! And hidey-ho,

Sing it high, sing it low.

Let’em know, the little shit’s in school!

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission because I’m old school.)

Child’s play isn’t child’s play

Colloquially, when someone—an adult—states that some activity was child’s play, they are trying to convey that the action was simple or easy, that it took no effort. And yet, their use of the expression couldn’t be more wrong.

I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon yesterday with a few friends and their kids at the local beach. The kids ranged in age from infant to teen, although the majority were in the 3-5 range, I think—at my age, anyone under 30 looks 12.

Regardless, when lunch was over, the younger set and a few doughy adults headed to the water, where things got serious. Not for the adults, you understand, whose toughest job was to retrieve a tossed flip-flop from the frigid waters of Lake Ontario. No, it was at this moment that the child’s play began in deadly earnest, for four of the middling sprites decided to build a canal system that would have made the Panama and Suez engineers blanch.

Miran, the eldest of the group, became overseer, designing a series of causeways that challenged the imagination. Mounds of sand became islands in the stream. Canal walls were carefully constructed, through trial and error, to ensure sturdiness in the face of aquatic onslaught.

Cole, the lone boy in the group, became a human bulldozer, carving access channels to the lake itself that would help fill the channels with each invading wave. Samantha and Hana, meanwhile, worked bucket brigade, supplementing Cole’s efforts with frequent trips between lake and canal system.

This was not child’s play, despite it being play by children.

With each set back—a minor sand slide, a misplaced deluge, pee break—there would be a momentary expression of frustration followed quickly by brief meeting to discuss options and then an action plan to right the wrong. A lot of adult companies could stand to learn from this lesson.

This is not to say the process was flawless. At one point, Miran decided that she wasn’t crazy about the canals under construction and instead wanted a massive lake, which would have necessitated the removal of a large island. A new corporate executive is born.

She was quickly talked out of this by her subordinates who felt challenged enough to complete the canal system, let alone initiate island removal.

The children worked tirelessly for an hour or so and made substantial headway, but like all good infrastructure projects, senior management (parents) eventually got bored (and not just a little sun-stroked) and wanted to head back to the house.

Reluctantly, the children packed up shop and abandoned the construction site. Unbeknownst to them, however, as quickly as they left the site, another altitudinally-challenged crew appeared to continue the job.

This is how I want to live my life; playing with fervent intensity. I accept there will be momentary setbacks—as I approach 50 years, pee breaks are a necessary evil—but I will not let those setbacks deter me in my goals or disturb the pleasure I get in pursuing them.

I am embracing child’s play 2.0.

The new neighbours

Rather than unpack yesterday afternoon, I decided to take a walk around my new neighbourhood and get to know the neighbours.