A Week in Toronto

Ben and I were thrilled when we learned that his brother Joe’s family was planning on visiting us in Toronto before we all would head to California together for the biennial Brew family reunion. We love showing off our city to visitors and we were especially excited to be able to enjoy an entire week here with people we love but don’t get to see very often. There’s a well-known Confucian saying in Chinese “有朋自远方来, 不亦乐乎”, which roughly translates to “What a great pleasure it is to have friends come from afar!” The sentiment behind this very simple, yet profound line resonated with me everyday of their visit. How wonderful it was that Joe, Coloma, Ramona, Galileo, and Julia (Coloma’s cousin) flew all the way across the Atlantic Ocean so that we could all be together!

I was pleasantly surprised by, and happily accepted, Coloma’s invitation to write a few words about our week in Toronto and to make a list some kid-friendly activities to do in the city. Writing this blog post, I figured, would give me a chance to reminisce about our fun-filled week. While trying to come up with a list of the interesting places we visited, I realized that most of my favourite memories were not Toronto specific at all but rather simply consisted of moments when we were all together sharing a meal, listening to Joe read Green Eggs and Ham to Ramona for the sixth time (with gusto!), and trying to make Galileo laugh while waiting in a long lineup.

Oftentimes, when we have friends or family coming to visit for the first time, Ben and I want to show off all of our favourite spots, the hippest restaurants, and the most iconic sites around the city. We kept our itinerary open for the most part during this visit and as it turned out, doing things with the right people - namely a joyful, enthusiastic 3-year-old - can make ordinary activities seem extraordinary, so it didn’t really matter what we did, where we went, or if we even left the house. Every moment spent together was special.

I’d like to delve into some family stuff and other things I learned during the week with our visitors, but as I had agreed to write about fun things to do in Toronto with kids, let’s start with that.

Fun activities to do with kids in Toronto

  • A visit to the Toronto Island

I always recommend a trip to the Toronto Island for all visitors to the city. Aside from seeing one of the nicest views you can get of the city skyline, the Island offers a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s especially a great place to bring kids, as it has lots of open space to run around (and is quite safe with no motor vehicle traffic), an awesome splash pad, beaches, family quadricycles for rent, and a petting zoo. The short ferry ride to and from the Island is fun as well. We spent a lovely afternoon walking around, chatting, chillin’ with Galileo in the grass, and watching Ramona play in the water park.

  • High Park Zoo and Jamie Bell Playground

Another wonderful spot to find some peace and greenery in the city is High Park. One of the highlights of the park for young ones in particular is the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground - a perfect place for a child to run wild with his or her imagination. We met up with Coloma’s friend (who also has a 3-year-old daughter named Ramona!) there and the two adorable Ramonas had a ball running around the gigantic playground.

The zoo, where you can get up close and personal with emus, deer, llamas, peacocks, and bison among other animals, is also definitely worth a visit. We happened to arrive during capybara lunchtime and Ramona had the chance to feed Toronto’s two famous capybaras (renowned for having escaped their enclosure and roamed as fugitives around the city for five weeks in 2016).

  • Walking around Kensington Market

A walk around Kensington Market is a sensory trip around the world. It is one of the most diverse and colourful neighbourhoods you’ll ever visit and is home to lots great shops, cafes, and restaurants. We enjoyed a few delicious meals here over the course of the week (tacos for dinner, bagels for breakfast, and a nice brunch) and happened to be around during Pedestrian Sunday when the streets close down to vehicle traffic and are replaced with live bands, street vendors, and artists.

  • City Parks (with Splash Pads!)

Toronto has a number of great parks and playgrounds. The two nearest to where we live are the newly revitalized Grange Park (Dundas St./Beverley St.) and Bellevue Square Park (Augusta Ave./Denison Sq.). How lucky that both these parks have undergone recent makeovers and now have awesome new playground structures for kids of all ages and splash pads, which Ramona LOVED! She jumped and splashed through the water exclaiming “És una festa!” (It’s a party!) and it certainly seemed so by the big smile on her face.

  • HTO Park / Harbourfront Centre

HTO Park is an urban beach located at Toronto’s lakefront where you can enjoy a serene morning playing in the sand, watch planes fly into and out of Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Island, and relax under the giant yellow umbrellas. From the park, you can walk a short distance along the waterfront to Harbourfront Centre - another great spot for children and grownups to enjoy. Although there were no activities or events happening while we were there, Harbourfront Centre hosts several cultural festivals, live music events, and various other family-friendly activities all year round.

  • CN tower

Toronto’s iconic tower offers amazing panoramic views of the city. Some folks (Joe and I to name a few) prefer to admire the 553 meter tall landmark from the ground, so we decided to take the kids to the park while Ben, Coloma, and Julia ventured to the top of the tower. Riding up the glass elevator, touring the observation deck, and having to wait in a long line to take the elevator down on busier days may be slightly overwhelming for toddlers. For older children and adults, however, going to the top of the CN Tower is often an exciting and memorable experience. We’ll have to take Ramona and Galileo there on their next visit to Toronto.

Family

I really appreciated the chance to be Aunt Xing and get to spend quality time with Ramona as a spunky, sweet 3-year-old and Galileo as a smiley, happy-go-lucky 6-month-old. I likely won’t have the chance to see my niece and nephew again at this age, so I did my best to soak up every bit of my limited time with them. I loved that Ramona loved my made-up-on-the-fly stories and that Galileo would laugh at the funny faces I made. They brought so much joy and energy into our home and lives! Being around them - and perhaps this goes for kids in general - forces you to be spontaneous, creative, and live in the present moment just as they do. These are things that if we did more often would, I believe, enable us to live fuller and happier lives. I am grateful to have been reminded of this by these two little humans!

I am also grateful to have been able to pick Joe and Coloma’s brain about parenting and to learn by observing them interact with their children. One thing which stood out in particular was how evident it is that what children crave most from their parents/caregivers is loving attention. Kids don’t care how much money their parents make, what jobs titles they hold, or other frivolous things adults tend to obsess over. They just want you to dance and sing with them, hide away together in their pillow fort, and join their festa in the splash pad. I truly admire how Joe and Coloma always took the time to wholeheartedly engage with and give loving attention to their kids no matter how busy or tired they were themselves. This is the kind of parent that I want to be in the future.

It’s a pity that we live across the ocean and seeing each other in person happens so infrequently. But I suppose that being apart makes us appreciate and cherish the time we do get to spend together all the more. What a great pleasure it is indeed to have friends come from afar! And although they have been gone for over two weeks now, I can still feel the warm, buzzing energy left by our five recent visitors. Thank you Joe, Coloma, Ramona, Galileo, and Julia for bringing so much joy into our home and all the important life lessons you’ve reminded us of during our time together. I can’t wait to see you again!

And a video compilation of the best moments !!